Monday, May 02, 2005

Handy tool to navigate Indonesia's legal jungle

The Business Times
Singapore
March 9, 2005

By THANG D NGUYEN

YOU might be asking yourself: 'Why should anyone read a book on Indonesian law?' It is because navigating the Indonesian legal system is like a walk in an unfamiliar jungle at night.

So, if you have to deal with Indonesian law, let Andrew I Sriro's Desk Reference of Indonesian Law (Equinox Publishing; February 2005) be your guide. Not that Indonesia lacks laws. As a matter of fact, it has tens of thousands of them. To start with, Indonesia has the French-inspired Dutch civil laws; that is, laws on the books when Indonesia was a colony of Holland. Some of the Dutch laws are still in effect and used in Indonesian courts.

Then, there are Indonesian laws, which have been enacted in the post-colonial period and are heavily influenced by principles of the continental European civil law; English common law; Islamic law; and traditional, unwritten Indonesian adat (customary) law systems. This mixed theoretical system makes Indonesian law difficult to understand and seemingly inconsistent. But worst of all, the Indonesian legal system is not transparent.

At the top level, one has to deal with lawyers and judges who often make court rulings seemingly in favour of the rich and powerful. In the middle, one faces incompetent, corrupt bureaucrats who delay the legal process, unless they are bribed. And at the bottom, one has law enforcing authorities, eg, police officers, who are poorly paid and will, therefore, do anything for money - depending on the size of the bribe.

Thus, justice does not serve the honest, the poor, and the weak. But not having money to pay their way through the Indonesian judicial system is not the only reason why a just cause may lose. The other, more important, reason is that most people simply don't have adequate access to Indonesian laws; they just do not know their rights.

As Mr Sriro, an American lawyer who knows and practices Indonesian law, writes: 'If people do not have access to the law, they cannot know their rights. If people do not know their rights, they cannot demand the enforcement of their rights. (And) if people are not empowered to demand the enforcement of their rights, they will be exploited and abused by those with access to power over the law.'

With sections on the Indonesian government and judicial systems; business organisations and commerce; debtor-creditor rights; labour law; family law; intellectual property; immigration; and, among others, a handy list of treaties and conventions to which Indonesia is a party, this reference serves more than just the average Indonesian.

Businesses and government officials (both local and foreign), employers and employees, expatriates, foreign retirees living in Indonesia, and anyone who has to deal with Indonesian law at all will find Mr Sriro's Desk Reference of Indonesian Law a useful tool.

In plain English (soon to be available in Bahasa Indonesia) and a reader-friendly format, the book defines for readers, and explains to them the implications of, Indonesian legal concepts that are difficult to understand. Thus, even if you are not involved in a lawsuit under Indonesian law, it would be wise to have a copy of this book on your desk or in your library; it may come handy someday.

The British scientist Francis Bacon once rued: 'Knowledge is power.' The ignorance of your rights, therefore, becomes somebody else's power that can be used against you.

Mr Nguyen is a Jakarta-based columnist. He writes frequently on Indonesian affairs and has published several books, including Indonesia Matters: Unity, Diversity, and Stability in Fragile Times (Times Editions)

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