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Jakarta Post

Honesty the best policy

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, October 14, 2020   /   08:26 am
Honesty the best policy Graffitti protest: Words spray-painted on a wall in Jakarta reflect the sense of public betrayal that has fueled three days of nationwide demonstrations against the omnibus bill on job creation, which the House of Representatives passed on Monday, Oct. 5. The graffiti reads: “Want to be elected/Want to be heard/After [they are] elected/They don’t want to hear. R.I.P.” (JP/Seto Wardhana)

From the beginning, the recently passed omnibus Job Creation Law has drawn criticism, not only from detractors of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, but also apolitical figures, as a result of the lack of transparency on the part of the government in its drafting. Such opacity seemed to mark the final stage of deliberation of the draft law, which climaxed in the House of Representatives’ approval on last Monday.

A series of mass protests have since ensued. Some have gone so far as resorting to acts of vandalism, but many others have vented their anger at the contentious law in a peaceful manner.

But why has the law, which the government claims will create many jobs through the removal of long-standing barriers to investment, been met with public opposition? With the country’s unemployment rate expected to exceed 10 million due in part to the COVID-19-induced recession, the law should have been welcomed as a panacea.

As some governors have said, the lack of transparency has perhaps triggered the demonstrations against the law. In formulating the law both the government and House were reluctant to go to the limit in seeking, let alone accommodating, input from the public, especially those affected by the legislation.

Allegations that both the executive and legislative powers cloaked the decision-making process were corroborated when days after the passing of the law the final draft was still not available to the public – while the government insists that people should read the massive legal volume before criticizing it.

In fact, there are at least three versions of the law that have widely circulated, the first has 905 pages, the second 1,035 pages and the third 812 pages. The first is the final draft according to the House legislation body, but according to House secretary-general Indra Iskandar, the second is the final draft that was submitted to President Jokowi for signing. Later Indra said the number of pages was down to 812 simply due to changes in page layout.

A close look at the three “final drafts”, however, has found several differences in content, such as articles on severance pay, long leave and fines to be imposed on employers who fail to pay the wages of their workers on time, all of which are the subject of public protest. Secretary-general of the Manpower Ministry Anwar Sanusi said the changes were made for the sake of clarity.

The amendments, which are prone to challenges in court for procedural violations, show the government draft did not follow a proper study in the first place. Worse, such mechanisms allow room for the “smuggling” in of articles or words that can change the whole idea of the law. We well recall the removal of a paragraph on the addictive nature of cigarettes from the final draft of the Health Law in 2009, just before the president was about to sign it.

Honesty is still the best policy, while back-room deals will only breed public distrust in, if not antipathy toward, the government. Good intentions, as the late poet WS Rendra said, are undermined if transparency is absent.