Thursday, January 05, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, October 18, 2004


Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

In his article, Information minister vital for Susilo's success (The Jakarta Post, Oct. 11, 2004), Muhammad Qodari argued that Megawati Soekarnoputri had failed to make use of the "strategic" information ministry. The appointment of Syamsul Mu'arif of the rival Golkar Party, not a cadre from her own party, as the information minister was also regarded as a blunder.

Qodari underlined the failure of Megawati to learn from the former president Soeharto who effectively used the information ministry to mobilize support although he was elected by the largely appointed members of the MPR (People's Consultative Assembly), not by the people.

Harmoko, the then-information minister and a Soeharto loyalist was regarded as an effective minister who successfully transmitted the message of the government's successes to the people, although Qodari admitted that Harmoko "was more a minister of propaganda than a communication minister."

Qodari said that we did not need such a powerful information ministry, yet he argued that the president-elect Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should re-empower the information ministry by giving the ministry "wider authority and bigger budget than it had under Megawati."
I would argue that we do not need a strong information ministry and that Qodari's arguments are clearly disturbing.

First, linking the present socio-political situation to that under the Soeharto era is irrelevant. Under Soeharto, Indonesia was relatively stable not only because of his ability to control information, but also because of his massive economic achievements.

On one hand, the stability was also further shaped by his authoritarian rule where civil liberties were curtailed and the mass media was heavily controlled. This combination of economic achievements and authoritarianism appeared to have brought stability to the country.

However, after being hit by the 1997 crisis, people realized that something was wrong with the way the country was governed. It was unfortunate that the heavily controlled media appeared to have slowed people's awareness of the wrongdoings of the Soeharto-supported elite. If the media had been critical, the country would have taken earlier steps to overcome the crisis.

The post-Soeharto era marked the boom of the independent media, not only at a national but also at a local level. Media, such as television, has penetrated households even at the lowest level of society; the family. As a result, people have become more openly critical towards governments' policies.

People seemed to rely more on independent media, rather than on the state-controlled media.
Arguably, Megawati's defeat in the election was not significantly caused by her appointment of Syamsul Mu'arif as a communication and information minister and her failure to effectively make use of this ministry, but more by her own failure to intelligently make use of the independent media to articulate her message.

Her taciturn style and obvious impatience during tough interview sessions seems to have cost her reelection bid. Above all, she simply failed to convey the message of her government's macroeconomic achievements to people.

Second, fully re-empowering the information ministry -- if it means reestablishing its apparatus down to the district and city level -- would be a massive financial burden on the government.

Third, reestablishing the ministry of information could be a starting point of a rollback of the hard-won civil liberties during this transitional period. As "power tends to corrupt", Susilo's government could fall into the trap of gradually controlling the independent media, which is dangerous to our young democracy. In any democracy, press freedom is a must to ensure a multitude of views are aired and that no party dominates or abuses the media.

Therefore, having an increasingly powerful information ministry in Indonesia as a newly emerging democracy could be detrimental.

Fourth, as the reestablishment and re-empowerment of information ministry may well be unpopular, this could backfire against Susilo, especially if the minister of information, as Qodari suggested, should be picked from Susilo's inner circle or his own political party -- the Democratic Party.

This could be a blunder and could politically cost Susilo and his new fledging political party, especially since during the campaign period Susilo had consistently declared his support for press freedom. It is therefore important that Susilo keep his promise to defend press freedom.

Fifth, the "how" rather than the "what" is more vital in regards with "information management." In this case, how information is managed, articulated, and transmitted is more important than the reestablishment of ministry of information. In fact, Susilo is far more eloquent a leader compared with Soeharto or Megawati.

Susilo is well-known for his skills in dealing with the independent media, proven during his time as a minister under the previous government. Susilo has demonstrated his impressive ability to tackle intricate questions not only from journalists, but also from the panel of experts during the presidential campaign period. He therefore does not need a ministry of information to act as a formal "public relations agent" as Qodari suggested.

Susilo as a president may not need to talk to the press as much anymore, but to help his job more effectively, he should have a professional "presidential spokesperson" to articulate his message and views to the people. The presidential spokesperson could have a public relations team to ensure that messages about all the government's achievements are being articulated through the independent media.

Susilo's success and Megawati's failure in the presidential elections show how leaders have to be shrewdly articulate in dealing with the independent media. How to turn the independent media either to their own advantage or disadvantage entirely depends on the skills and knowledge of the leader and their public relations team.


Asian Studies Review
December 2004, Vol. 48, pp. 423–452

R. GOVINDA and R. DIWAN (eds). Community Participation and Empowerment in Primary Education. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2003. 255 pp. Rs 480, hardcover; Rs 295, paper.

Amid the worldwide trend towards devolution in education governance, community participation is a complex but intriguing area of research. India’s experience provides a
unique case in which class-caste composition and socio-economic inequality are apparent, even though the country arguably has a strong democratic tradition and constitutional
efforts were made to address such issues. Its huge population and the diverse cultural origins of the people also provide major challenges to reform. In an attempt to outline
and analyse the challenges, R. Govinda and Rashmi Diwan edited this book, which consists of ten insightful papers on community participation and empowerment in primary
education in India.

In the Introduction, the editors explain how, after years of governmentalisation of education governance in the post-independence years, it was not until the mid-1980s
that decentralisation was again identified as a key agenda in education reform. The decentralisation policy was launched with the National Policy on Education (NPE) in
1986 and was further legally strengthened by the 73rd–74th constitutional amendments regarding the formation of Panchayati Raj institutions – autonomous bodies at the local

P. K. Michael Tharakan depicts community participation in the state of Kerala by illustrating how the village panchayats “proved capable of bearing the organisational
and academic responsibilities of the school complexes” (p. 35). Most of the success in this state was perceived to be the result of the activism of teachers, and the problems stemmed from the non-cooperative attitude of local officials.

Vimala Ramachandran discusses the experience in Rajasthan by considering how class-caste composition impeded the community participation process in this poor state,
highlighting how the feudalistic influences of the past endure to the present time.

Sadhna Saxena attempts to “problematise” the concept of community participation. The author depicts how efforts to comprehensively understand the phrase “community participation” were prevented by the “air of political correctness and legitimacy” of this latest
buzzword (p. 75).

It is worth noting that both Ramachandran and Saxena illustrate how lower-caste people have been harassed by upper-caste people, leading in one case to suicide (p. 95). Similarly, Anjali Noronha argues that class-caste composition might have “coloured” “the nature of conflict” stemming from the community involvement process in the state of MadhyaPradesh (p. 99). However, the formation of Panchayati Raj institutions resulted in an encouraging development as the villagers started to pay great attention to their school.

Vinay K. Kantha and Daisy Narain illustrate the dynamics of community mobilisationin the fragmented and turbulent state of Bihar. The authors illustrate how community
involvement is likely to have positive results as long as supply and management issues are addressed with care. Problems, however, might still arise from conflicts and rivalries
within the mobilising groups.

N. Shantha Mohan MD, Gayathri Devi Dutt and Piush Antony depict community participation in the state of Karnataka. The authors emphasise the importance of addressing
the issue of sustainability. They claim that community participation could be short-lived, unless sustainability mechanisms are put in place.

Vinod Raina compares community participation in school education and watershed development. The author outlines a typology of community participation: passive participation,
participation in information giving, participation by consultation, participation for material resources, functional participation, legislated participation, interactive participation,
and self-mobilisation.

R. Govinda illustrates the experience in the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Like Mohan et al., the author addresses the issue of sustainability. Govinda also emphasises the importance of all related actors viewing their relationship from a new perspective, as community participation demands mutual trust.

In the final chapter, R. Govinda discusses the need for local capacity building. While capacity building traditionally refers to training or workshops, increased communityparticipation “demands a radical transformation of the organisational culture” (p. 239). As such, Govinda emphasises the significance of the willingness of local governments to share their power with the local people and the willingness of schools to provide more transparency and accountability.

This book provides valuable insights particularly relevant to non-Western or developing countries (where socio-economic inequality is often common) that have been undergoing
education reforms by decentralising education governance to the local level.

The book shows that reform is somewhat inseparable from local socio-political conditions, such
as social structure and the dynamics of local politics.

University of Sydney

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