Flaws in the social-conflict management law

The recently approved law on managing social conflict is indeed a cause for concern. Chairman of the House of Representatives’ special committee mandated to debate the draft law, Adang Daradjatun, states that the law is a requisite solution to cope with tensions between Indonesia’s different social groups. He also insists that the involvement of Indonesian Military (TNI) is necessary to solve social conflict.

However, the military involvement in civilian affairs has and will spark controversy in Indonesia, which the international community perceives a democracy that has succeeded in bringing the military back to its barracks.

Conversely, an Indonesian military expert said that the TNI has never had return to its barracks (The Jakarta Post, April 19). The reason is simple: The Indonesian military was originally comprised of voluntary guerrilla troops who fought for the country’s independence from colonial rulers. Their posts were spread from one end of the nation to the other, justifying the army’s territorial district command (Koter) existence up to this very day.

Inspired by their voluntary nature, the armed forces brought about the initiative for self-funding through their involvement in business.

There are three ways the Indonesian armed forces won access to businesses. First, the military had their own businesses or were partial owners. Second, they were managing businesses. Third, they provided security backing for businesses.

Military businesses lack accountability and coordination, therefore the government has been attempting to eliminate this practice. The first efforts came in the late 1950s under president Sukarno, when high-level military officers were caught smuggling sugar and extorting money from local businesspeople in Central Java. The effect was transfer of those officers.

The second attempt to stop military businesses took place in the early years of president Soeharto’s term. At the time, two giant state-owned companies, Pertamina and Bulog, were led by military officers that mismanaged the enterprises and drove them into bankruptcy.

The outcome of the irregularities was Government Regulation No. 6/1974 that banned military personnel from taking part in business activities, except those with non-profit goals and functions. This regulation transformed military involvement in business to cooperatives and foundations (yayasan) that in turn were able to create successful companies in the 1980s, such as Mandala Airlines and Bank Artha Graha.

In the wake of the reform movement in 1998, these military-owned and run companies came under great scrutiny. They lost their patrons due to regime change and were unable to justify their business. The companies’ assets were deflated and what was left was sold to the public, while around 200 unsold companies under cooperatives and yayasan were taken over by the government.

The government undertook its third attempt to kick the military out of business through the enforcement of Defense Law No. 3/2002 that regulates the sole funding for military was the State Budget (APBN) and TNI Law No. 34/2004 that bars military from business.

Approximately 10 years after these laws came into effect, the House endorsed the social conflict bill into law. The main flaw of this law is that it allows the TNI to take part in local conflict management (Article 12) and therefore give the armed forces access to regional budget (APBD) funds. This leniency may create a loophole for the military to seek off-budget funding and therefore engage to local security issues.

The second blunder is that the government has not issued laws on TNI assistance and state security that are needed to map the domain of the police and military so as to avoid overlaps. The two laws are more urgent than the social conflict management law because they will regulate the two security actors’ roles and functions that hopefully prevent clashes between the two forces, such as have recently occurred.

It is suggested that in times of peace, the police hold the responsibility for maintaining social order, which should be taken over by the military when the country is at war. Without clear distribution of authorities, conflicts between the two security actors will persist.

Awkward positioning of the Indonesian Police (Polri) that directly answers to the President, as against the TNI, which has to coordinate with the Ministry of Defense, is another thorny issue. This has created an institutional imbalance. Furthermore, the Polri’s privilege sparks suspicion of less transparency, because of the absence of oversight from the Cabinet. It also generates envy among TNI personnel.

Despite the perception that the police ranks higher than the TNI, the social conflict management law places the military as the ultimate solution to counter social conflicts. This creates an image of Polri as an incapable problem-solver. The law positions the TNI as a generic cure-all for social disturbances, yet, not all social problems require the mobilization of force.

If this position gap is not addressed, tension and even conflict might arise between the security actors. Coordination between the two forces therefore cannot be simply regulated under Article 34 of the law or through the issuance of government regulations, but requires thorough institutional reform.

The flaws provide sufficient justification for a judicial review. When it happens, improvement of the law should also address in-depth conflict resolution dimensions and methods, state endorsement to promote conflict-prevention dialogues and to provide assurance of human rights protection, as well as enforcement of the non-recurring principle. Otherwise, what will happen is a repetition of conflict between security-actors rather than solving the conflict.

Published in Jakarta Post, 18 May 2012


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