Just open it

Editorial: Just open it
, 25 October 2010

Glasnost, or openness, was a word used by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the second half of the 1980s to describe a program of reforms for his country. More than two decades later, Jim Keyes, president and CEO of 7-Eleven — the world’s largest chain of retail stores — used a similar phrase, “openness to change”, to describe reforms in his company. Both men succeeded in changing and improving the images of their organizations.

Today, openness and transparency in the activities of government institutions has gone global. But almost three decades after Gorbachev’s policy of maximum publicity was first introduced, such a noble concept of good governance and democratization has yet to flourish here in Indonesia.

There are two cases in point. First, a videotape was released depicting the apparent torture of several Papuans believed to be members of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM) by alleged members of the Indonesian Military (TNI). Second is the government’s recent decision to ban the Rainbow Warrior from entering Indonesia. The crew of the vessel planned to promote environmental issues in Indonesia.

Both are fervent examples of the government’s failure to adopt and subsequently impose the universally accepted concept of openness.

The case involving the Papuans received an immediate response from the Indonesian government after the Asian Human Rights Commission posted the alleged torture video to YouTube. On Friday, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto said that there had been abuse in Papua. “There are indications that our soldiers in the field overreacted in dealing with a suspected group of armed people,” the minister said as quoted by Antara after attending a limited Cabinet meeting on political, legal and security affairs chaired by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Djoko said that such overreactions were against the military’s code of ethics and professionalism, but stopped short of confirming that the soldiers had made a mistake and added that the TNI’s headquarters was investigating the case.

The government’s refusal to allow Greenpeace’s flagship vessel to enter Indonesia, on the contrary, has received less attention, with minimal media coverage and no official explanation on the matter.

The incidents effectively display the government’s halfhearted commitment to reform and democratization, as shown by its reluctance to “open the door” for openness, particularly on critical issues such as separatism and global concern over environmental degradation in Indonesia. Shouldn’t we have learned from the handling of separatism in Aceh? In that case, the country’s image on human rights and political freedom was tarnished, which eventually led to condemnation and isolation from the international community.

By widely opening the door to openness, Indonesia will not only be free from international condemnation and isolation, but will also be able to effectively prevent suspicion and widespread speculation among the general public. Unless cases such as the alleged Papuan torture video are immediately and honestly managed, people will turn to uncontrollable underground and social networking channels such as YouTube. The government’s immediate response to these latest torture allegations deserves praise and should become a must-do habit in the future.