Subject: TNI to Define Which Data It Can Keep Secret

The Jakarta Globe April 26, 2010

Military to Define Which Data It Can Keep Secret

by Markus Junianto Sihaloho

Ahead of next month’s implementation of a law on freedom of information, the military has announced a unilateral move to define what constitutes classified information, citing the government’s failure to provide a clear definition.

The military announced last Thursday that it would use Article 17 of the law to classify certain information, including its active arsenal and annual budget.

“After May 1, we will be able to gag any news report divulging such information, based on the Freedom of Information Law,” military spokesman Air Vice Marshal Sagom Tamboen said.

Currently, the military budget and details of its arsenal are in the public domain.

Article 17 of the Freedom of Information Law stipulates that some material currently exempt from public disclosure must be made public, including that dealing with national defense and other strategic issues.

University of Indonesia military analyst Andi Widjajanto said the military’s move to choose what information it could classify was understandable in light of the law’s lack of exemptions for certain information.

He said it was up to the government to issue a special decree on the definition and limitation of the exempted information.

“Article 62 of the law says any decree related to the law must be issued by the government at the time the law is implemented,” he said.

“And the government hasn’t done that, so we can’t blame the military for going ahead on its own.”

However, Andi said the military’s move was a step backward, given the universal concept among armed forces around the world called the confidence-building measure (CBM).

This concept, he said, required all armed forces to make public their annual budgets, weapon inventories and deployment, and strategies, to guarantee they were not used in a provocative manner or for offensive means.

“It’s useful for building a climate of mutual trust between countries,” Andi said.

Andreas Pareira, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) spokesman on defense and inter­national affairs, said he could understand the military’s decision to keep strategic information under wraps.

“It’s acceptable if it is used to safeguard the country’s sovereignty,” Andreas said.

However, he said the PDI-P would deem it a step too far if the military also chose to make secret its annual budget.

The budget, Andreas pointed out, came from taxpayers, who were entitled to transparency about how their money was being spent.

“What’s more, the military budget is also part of the government’s annual budget, which is discussed at the House of Representative,” he added. “So it shouldn’t be a secret.”

Andi said the public still had recourse to the Public Information Commission, established last year, to seek a review of the military’s move to define unilaterally what constituted classified information.

“If the public is dissatisfied with the military’s decision, it can always take the matter to the Public Information Commission,” he said.

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