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Jakarta Post

Civil groups refuse to ease pressure on pandemic response law

  • Galih Gumelar

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, May 15, 2020   /   06:02 pm
Civil groups refuse to ease pressure on pandemic response law Stamped and sealed: House of Representatives Speaker Puan Maharani (right) speaks with Deputy Speaker Aziz Syamsuddin as they lead a House plenary session at the parliamentary complex in Jakarta on Tuesday. Lawmakers endorsed the government's plan to enact a regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) on the country's novel coronavirus response. (Antara/Muhammad Adimaja)

Even after convincing lawmakers to enact an executive order on the country’s pandemic response, the government still faces scrutiny from civil groups claiming the order gives officials the opportunity to embezzle state funds.

A contentious regulation in lieu of law (Perppu), which the House of Representatives endorsed on Tuesday, allows the state to increase spending for programs related to the national COVID-19 response.

The resulting law will justify any state move to extend the budget deficit beyond the legal cap of 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), alerting critics to possible misappropriation.

Three civil society groups have already tried challenging the emergency provisions at the Constitutional Court, vowing to continue pushing back on what they see as “malicious intent”.

Read also: Perppu on COVID-19 aid puts graft fight at stake

They include the Alliance of the Nation’s Children (AAB), the Indonesian Anticorruption Community (MAKI) and an unnamed group comprising 24 plaintiffs, including public figures Din Syamsudin and Amien Rais.

The groups insist that the order shields state officials responsible for fiscal and monetary measures from legal charges behind the argument that they acted in good faith, as explicitly stipulated in Article 27 of the law. Any fallout would be considered an “economic cost” and not “state losses”, possibly absolving the officials of any corruption charges.

But the judicial reviews they filed last month might be aborted, with the court set to drop all challenges once President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo signs the law and legal scrubbing is complete.

“The Perppu will turn into a law, so the court can no longer proceed with our previous lawsuits. We would like to, therefore, file another judicial review against the upcoming law,” AAB leader Damai Hari Lubis told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

“We find Article 27 to be evil, and it must be removed because it undermines antigraft efforts in the country.”

Damai said the provision needs to be challenged because it fails to define what indicators for state budget allocation fall within the criteria of “goodwill”, arguing that it violates Article 79 of the 2014 Government Administration Law, which calls for the state to uphold accountability and transparency.

The article is open to interpretation and could even override the 2001 Corruption Crimes Law, he added.

Read also: House grills govt over ‘unconstitutional’ Perppu

MAKI coordinator Boyamin Saiman said he would file a new judicial review to the court, having prepared a 53-page lawsuit document to support his group’s case.

The unnamed group of plaintiffs will be doing the same, said Ahmad Yani, one of the collective’s defense lawyers.

Constitutional Court spokesman Fajar Laksono said the court was still processing the previous challenges to the Perppu because the President had yet to sign it into law.

“But once the legal scrubbing is complete, the public can [take it back] to the court,” he said.

The court resumed trial over the Perppu case on Thursday, two days after the House passed the Perppu as a Law.

Despite increasing pressure on the incoming provision, the government was adamant that the law does not intend to grant impunity to state officials caught misappropriating state funds.

Read also: Indonesia’s COVID-19 stimulus playbook explained

Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said anyone who under any circumstances misappropriated the state budget would still be charged under the 2001 Corruption Crimes Law.

“Article 27 only provides a legal guarantee for state officials to promptly issue a policy to mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the economy,” Yasonna said in a statement.

“We should not forget that Article 1 of the 2001 Corruption Crime Law stipulates that those who have embezzled from state funds relating to disaster relief can face the death penalty.

“Since the President declared the pandemic a national disaster, state officials who [commit any such act] can be charged with the aforementioned article.”