Underperformance, overreach themes for Indonesia’s current House, critics say

In the first half of this year’s sessions, only two legislative items were passed into law by the current House lawmakers: the continental shelf bill in April and the omnibus health bill in July.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


Lawmakers attend a House of Representatives plenary session in Jakarta on March 8, 2021. PHOTO: ANTARA/ THE JAKARTA POST

August 14, 2023

JAKARTA – With only 14 months left in its five-year term, it seems that the House of Representatives will be unlikely to meet its legislative targets, with critics highlighting unproductive sessions, opaque deliberations and a brazen overreach that have increasingly become the norm.

In the first half of this year’s sessions, only two legislative items were passed into law by the current House lawmakers: the continental shelf bill in April and the omnibus health bill in July.

This is far below the 19 items on the House’s priority list, which lawmakers and the government are aiming to complete by the end of the year.

The current House, which was elected in 2019, has so far passed into law only 20 of the 259 bills proposed during the 2020-2024 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas).

If this slow pace continues, it is unlikely that the House will be able to pass the remaining bills by the end of 2023, according to legislative watchdog the Indonesian Parliament Watch (Formappi).

“The lack of legislative items passed into law shows that the House’s performance is less than optimal; always bombastic in planning but often falling short of targets,” said Formappi executive director I Made Leo Wiratma in a live-streamed press conference on Thursday.

Things are being exacerbated by next year’s general elections. “Lawmakers who are seeking reelection will likely have their hands tied with campaigning,” Made added.

Whose interest?

Despite dozens of prioritized bills remaining in the pipeline, lawmakers have instead recently turned their focus to other bills, such as the revision of the Village Law. The amendment was not on the House’s priority list, but unanimously gained the endorsement of the legislative body.

Experts suspect political motives are behind the proposed revision. Once passed, the revised law would grant village heads more funds and longer terms, which might benefit politicians running in the general and regional elections next year.

Village heads, which number close to 75,000, are seen as political tools that politicians can use to influence voters living in rural areas.

“Our lawmaking is largely determined by whether the bill would fit the lawmakers’ interests, not the public interest,” Formappi researcher Lucius Karus said.

He used the deliberation on the asset forfeiture bill as an example. Until today, the House has yet to start deliberating the bill, which seeks to regulate illicit enrichment, even after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo sent a presidential letter in May requesting that the bill be discussed.

The assets bill has been on the agenda for almost a decade after being dropped from the House’s priority list in 2012.

“Of course [the bill] is not good news for our lawmakers, some of whom have entrepreneurial backgrounds and are likely to hoard illegal assets,” Lucius said.

Secretive talks

Despite criticism, the House continues to rush deliberations while failing to include the public in a meaningful way.

Formappi found that there were at least 28 closed-door meetings out of 152 assemblies held during this House’s fifth session, which ran from May 16 to July 13.

These meetings often involve controversial laws, such as amendments to the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law and the Constitutional Court Law. Both laws have been under the spotlight because of potential controversies.

Activists have called for more transparency in the deliberation of ITE Law revisions, especially on articles related to defamation, obscenity and online hate speech. Such provisions are often used to curb free speech and criminalize government critics and journalists.

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court Law revision was scrutinized as it seeks to allow the House, the President and the Supreme Court to evaluate every five years or at any time necessary each of the three sitting justices they appoint. Such evaluations could be done without specifying a clear mechanism on how to review the justices.

The revision to the Constitutional Court Law was proposed when the House removed Justice Aswanto, a House appointee, in September 2022, long before his tenure was supposed to end in 2019. The House cited “disappointing performance” and a failure to represent the House’s interests in the court.

Aswanto was part of the five-justice majority that ruled the Job Creation Law, the controversial centerpiece of Jokowi’s ambitious reform agenda, “conditionally unconstitutional.”

“The House is getting more and more arrogant,” said Lucius. “The House has exercised a brazen overreach that further undermines other state institutions while it is unable to boost its own performance.

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