Yudhoyono must not fail to pass key disaster management bill

Yudhoyono must not fail to pass key disaster management bill

Opinion and Editorial – March 29, 2007

Puji Pujiono, Jakarta

If all proceeds as planned, March 29, 2007, will be remembered as the day when a House of Representatives plenary session endorses the long awaited disaster management bill into law.

Conceived nearly two years ago against the grim backdrop of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and with strong encouragement from civil society, the bill was adopted as a flagship initiative of the House. It calls for a paradigmatic change in the scenario, cast, roles, and, indeed, the whole dramatic theater of Indonesia living with disasters.

The new law will involve shifting from conventional emergency response to more contemplative disaster risk reduction. The government will have to learn to invest in times when there are no disasters by incorporating disaster management into governance and development concepts, while, at all times, improving emergency response and early recovery capacities.

Disaster response and relief are dubbed “government assistance”, as if they are benevolent acts of a ruler. This will have to be changed into a “government obligation to fulfill the rights of disaster-affected people.” The failure to do so could entitle citizens, the holders of rights, to sue the government when such rights are not fulfilled.

All plans for new construction and infrastructure work will be required as a prerequisite to submit disaster risk analyses. The government will be empowered to declare certain areas to be disaster prone, and people might need to be relocated until such time as those areas are declared otherwise.

Gone will be the day when there is no specific agency responsible for managing disasters. The new law will require the government, within six month after its enactment, to set up a full time, authoritative, professional and powerful National Disaster Management Agency, to be headed by a state minister.

Government at different levels will also be empowered to declare a state of calamity based on the recommendations of the Agency. In such cases, the agency will be provided with “special access” as regards asset mobilization, permits and taxation, CIQ (customs, immigration and quarantine), direct procurement, special funding, and even special powers over other sectors and locales.

These are but some of the many sweeping changes that will be brought about by the new Disaster Management Law — changes that will give us all the chance to save lives and reduce the destruction caused by disasters.

These changes are long overdue as the country has been mercilessly flayed by disasters, both large and small, in recent years. If managed properly, an improved disaster management regime would help restore the credibility of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration.

However, in this Republic, the passing of a brand new law is never guaranteed to produce meaningful changes. Often thousands of hours of advocacy and deliberation leading to the enactment of the law, along with people’s hope and expectations, are left to wither away while the necessary government ancillary regulations that are needed to put it into effect are awaited.

Many major pieces of legislation require many ancillary regulations, sometimes thirty or forty. However, the framing of such regulations is notoriously difficult and complicated. Many take years to complete. There are many horror stories associated with what happens when the bureaucracy starts work on ancillary regulations, intent as it is on doing everything it can to prevent its power and resources being shared with other institutions.

Throughout the deliberation process, the lawmakers have been aware of this possibility, and have thus kept the number of required ancillary regulations to a minimum of only six. These regulations deal with the special access to given to the Agency; rehabilitation; reconstruction; funding management; relief and assistance; and international cooperation. Other matters, such as the setting up of the National Disaster Management Agency and the rules for declaring a state of calamity are to be provided for by the simpler presidential regulation mechanism.

Already, some government officials have signaled that since the envisaged new law has been initiated by the House, there will be no budgetary funding for the framing of its ancillary regulations. If a request for funding out of the 2008 budget were to be submitted, then the money would only become available in mid-2008. Under normal circumstances, it requires at least one year to complete one ancillary regulation. Thus, the Disaster Management Law will only take effect in, say, 2012.

God forbid, but by then thousands of Indonesian men, women and children will likely have perished and millions of others will have lost everything. Concurrently, such a long-drawn-out process would strip the envisaged new law of the spirit that led to its initiation in the first place.

If this is the fate of the envisaged Disaster Management Law, then the administration will be guilty of failing its people, and itself. President Yudhoyono must not falter now.

Many members of the House special committee deliberating the disaster management bill have volunteered to cooperate with the administration so as to expedite the framing of the ancillary regulations. Members of international community, domestic NGOs and the Indonesian Society for Disaster Management are there to provide support. President Yudhoyono must not falter now.

If the President is concerned with people’s survival, this is the time to put his best foot forward. He could seize the opportunity to save lives and spare millions of people from death and destruction. He could get the men and women around him to roll up their sleeves and work hard to expedite the issuance of all six ancillary regulations with six months. President Yudhoyono must not falter now.

Let us all pray hard that he will listen and not falter at the final hurdle.

The writer is a board member of the Indonesian Disaster Management Society (MPBI) and an expert advisor to the House special committee on the disaster management bill. The views expressed in this article are his personal opinions. He can be reached at puji.pujiono@gmail.com.



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