Stuck in Bureaucracy

Komnas HAM asks two universities to evaluate its performance.THE National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) has found a way to put a stop to the endless criticism that has beleaguered it since its foundation, 13 years ago. The most common criticisms are those which accuse the Commission of being powerless in pursuing and exposing human rights abuse. The public has been waiting since its formation for some “real action” in the handling of human rights abuse cases.

The solution, raised by Komnas HAM head Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara, last October, is to have an independent evaluation of the Commission. The solution was approved in a meeting. “The evaluation will be a mirror with which we, Commission members can look at ourselves,” said Abdul Hakim. The result can also serve as “homework” to improve the institution.

The Human Rights Study Center at Surabaya University (Ubaya) and the Economic Development and Research Institute at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) were selected as the evaluation institutes. Komnas HAM told the two institutes to focus on the human rights substance and the organization of the Commission. The two will share this task, the Research Institute at UGM will evaluate the commission’s management while the Study Center in Surabaya will research the human rights substance.

They plan to finish their evaluation in January next year. The results are in early and the evaluation is almost complete. Revrisond Baswir, the UGM evaluation team leader, believes his team has found the Commission’s fundamental problem. “The trouble lies in the budget system,” he said. According to Baswir, Komnas HAM receives its budget from the government. The salary standard for Komnas HAM staff is equivalent to civil officials. “Not the salary typical of government officials,” he said.

With that system, Baswir says, Komnas HAM cannot become an independent institution. “The system is very government-like,” he added. Even an independent newcomer will find it hard to keep his or her impartiality. “It’s hard to escape once you have entered this black hole, however independent you are,” he said.

Meanwhile, the team from Surabaya University had surprising results. They found “two groups” within the Commission: those with problems and those with support. The two groups have significantly affected the function of Komnas HAM. The Surabaya University team leader, Yoan Nursari Simanjuntak, will not reveal any names. “The evaluation is still not final,” she said.

Abdul Hakim admitted that thus far they have encountered obstacles in substantiating human rights abuse cases. “More than ever since the reorganization of the work divisions,” he said. Previously, the organization of work divisions was based on the Commission’s functions: evaluation, research, justification, monitoring, and mediation. However, in 2004, the divisions were changed based on human rights issues such as civil politics, economic, socio-cultural, and groups with special protection. Each member is responsible for his own topic area.

The changes have caused some trouble because at times a case involves several different issues. “Then, one Komnas HAM member has to wait for another to act,” said Abdul Hakim. Consequently, this method of work division only serves to confuse the secretary-general, who cannot effectively manage the programs and the budget. For this reason, according to a Tempo source, a number of Komnas HAM members wish to return to the work division they had prior to 2004.

However, the most crucial and sensitive problem, which has continued for months, is the management of staff salary. Banners criticizing the secretary-general and Komnas HAM who are deemed to be inconsiderate to the fate of the staff have been put up in the Komnas HAM headquarters.

Abdul Hakim blamed it on the presidential regulation on the staff salary system, which has not been published yet. At present, he said, members of staff are categorized as civil officials (PNS) and non-PNS. The secretary-general, while waiting for another presidential regulation to modify the salary norms, has applied a different regulation that in effect reduces the staff salary by 70 percent.

The Komnas HAM secretary has discussed this matter with the Minister for Administrative Reform and the Finance Department and a conclusion was reached. “There will be an ad hoc payment system in 2007,” said Abdul Hakim.

Komnas HAM’s branches in regional districts also face the same problem. Thus far, the “regional commission” receives its funds from the regional government budget and is based on each program. Unfortunately, this system yields poor results. “There should be a special institutional budget,” said Abdul Hakim.

Asmara Nababan, Komnas HAM former secretary-general has his own opinion on the salary system. According to Nababan, the Commission should adopt the system used by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). “The KPK staff are not civil officials, but their salary comes from the State Budget,” he said.

Nevertheless, Nababan stated that Komnas HAM needed to reduce its number of staff. Presently, it has 35 members. Nababan compared the Komnas HAM staff to similar institutions in India and Africa. “They have only five members,” he said, mentioning other drawbacks of having large numbers of staff, “it slows down the decision-making process and wastes time.” Abdul Hakim agrees with Nababan. According to him, the number of staff is not mentioned in the draft of the Human Rights Law. The maximum is actually only 23. “This is a convention,” he said, hoping the selection committee for members of 2007-2012 Komnas HAM will follow this convention.

Komnas HAM, preparing to hire new staff, held a meeting last November to choose five members for the selection board. The five members are: Soetandyo Wigjosoebroto, Maria Hartiningsih, Musdah Mulia, Kemala Chandrakirana, and Azumardi Azra. They are to “search” for new members to replace 20 Commission members who will end their work period in August 2007.

In Nababan’s opinion, the new members will not improve Komnas HAM’s image. “Because the Commission is still too bureaucratic,” he said. Moreover, support from the government has further deteriorated since President Abdurrahman Wahid. “Gus Dur (President Abdurrahman Wahid) was very encouraging,” said Nababan. Similar opinion also came from Baswir. “Don’t expect too much from Komnas HAM. There is no flexibility there,” he said.

Maria Hasugian, Abdul Manan, Sunudyantoro (Surabaya)

Tempo Magazine, No. 15/VII/Dec 12 – 18, 2006

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