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Jakarta Post

Concerns arise as government undermines rule of law in pandemic response

  • Galih Gumelar

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, April 10, 2020   /   07:54 am
Concerns arise as government undermines rule of law in pandemic response Passengers wait at the Pondok Pinang bus terminal in Jakarta before getting on a bus that would take them to their hometowns on Friday. Many people have returned to their hometowns from Jakarta despite the government advising against doing so as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. (Antara/Reno Esnir)

After introducing a contentious omnibus bill that seeks to cut through red tape, the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has found itself under scrutiny again as it carries out several new strategies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that might overstep prevailing regulations.

Critics have said that two of the latest government moves – a plan to cancel this year’s Idul Fitri holiday bonus (THR) and yearly bonus for civil servants, as well as a policy criminalizing those who are deemed to have defamed the government in relation to COVID-19 response – will undermine the rule of law.

“The government must respect the prevailing laws when making new policies during the pandemic, given that the Constitution says that Indonesia is 'a state governed by laws',” Trubus Rahadiansyah, a public policy and legal expert at Trisakti University, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

“But the government’s moves in recent days have raised eyebrows since they might overstep some of the current laws, including a plan to cancel civil servants’ holiday and annual bonuses this year."

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati mulled the possibility of cutting bonuses for state officials, as well as echelon I and II officials, as she is prioritizing the state budget for combating the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

The remaining lower- and middle- level civil servants, including also police and military personnel, will still receive the bonuses.

Trubus said the bonus cut would be illegitimate, given that Government Regulation (PP) No. 35/2019 on civil servant allowances stipulates that those bonuses cannot be cut even when the state budget is under pressure.

He also said it would probably contradict Article 21 of the 2014 State Civil Apparatus (ASN) Law that protects civil servants' right to receive allowances and bonuses from the government, with the law itself having failed to mention conditions under which bonus cuts are legitimate.

It remains unclear whether such a policy will take shape, but Sri Mulyani said on Wednesday that it would be discussed further in a Cabinet meeting in the coming weeks.

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The Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry’s spokesperson Andi Rahadian did not respond to the Post’s request for comment as of Wednesday evening.

If the government insists on canceling this year’s bonuses, Trubus urged the government to prepare another legal guideline to specifically regulate bonus cancellation under extraordinary circumstances, including in times of emergency.

“If the government keeps on with the plan without any strong legal basis, slashing bonuses for civil servants would be illegitimate,” Trubus said.

“Another way is to revise the 2019 PP to accommodate the plan. But the amendment should also be discussed with the House of Representatives, since it will stipulate new conditions that are not regulated in the ASN law.”

Jokowi's administration also finds itself in the hot seat after the National Police moved to criminalize those who publicly insult the President and government officials in relation to their handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Read also: Criticism 'not an insult': Police's plan to nab slanderers of govt over COVID-19 questioned

National Police chief Gen. Idham Azis, in a classified police telegram dated April 4, ordered his personnel to start cyber patrols to monitor the "development of the situation and opinion in cyberspace" during the pandemic.

The telegram says offenders can be charged with defamation under Article 207 of the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of 1.5 years in prison.

Meanwhile those who spread false information relating to government policies in handling the contagious disease will be subject to Articles 14 and/or 15 of the Criminal Code, which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars.

Erasmus Napitupulu of the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) said the Indonesian legal system no longer categorized insults against the President as a crime after the Constitutional Court scrapped such provisions in a ruling in 2006.

He said that charging offenders under Article 207 was inappropriate since it failed to cite insulting the President as an offense.

“This policy aims at restricting freedom of expression. The police are not only violating the Constitutional Court ruling, but also contravening the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech,” Erasmus said.

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Idham acknowledged that his decision had fueled public anger, but he brushed off those criticisms by saying that upholding law enforcement measures would not always satisfy all people.

“There are always pros and cons regarding our law enforcement measures. But those who have been named suspects due to the crime [insulting the President and state officials] can file pretrial suits to defend themselves,” Idham said in a recent statement.