The People's Right to Know: Towards a More Inclusive and Transparent Disclosure of Information

By Abby Don


As the Asian Development Bank gears up for the comprehensive review of its Public Communications Policy (PCP) by 2010, the NGO Forum on ADB has jumpstarted its own independent and parallel process of on-the-ground consultations. The series of community-level consultations kicked off in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on January 22-23, 2010. Spearheaded by the NGO Forum on ADB, Solidaritas Perempuan Kinasih and Forum LSM Yogja, the consultation was attended by project-affected people and non-government organizations monitoring ADB projects from Kalimantan, Java and Yogyakarta.


YOGYAKARTA, 12 Feb 10 — “Access to comprehensive, accurate and timely information” is a strong sentiment expressed by communities from West Kalimantan and Java in Indonesia. Their current experiences exemplify how project-affected communities often find themselves on the receiving end of either misinformation or disinformation about the projects that are being planned by the Bank.


There are misleading and inaccurate information circulated with regard to the number of households affected by the project, such as in the case of an ADB-funded regional road development project in Kambayan, West Kalimantan. The final draft of PPTA (Project Preparatory Technical Assistant) prepared by ADB says only 63 houses are directly affected on the proposed road-link in West Kalimantan. The people strongly disagree and stress that the number of affected households is more than 63, in fact, way beyond 63. The corridor of impact (COI) is one of the contentious issues. It seems that the Bank has not given this concern a forethought and consideration in determining the actual number of households that will be affected by the project. It was a unilateral decision made by the Bank’s consultant hired to prepare this Project and the Indonesian government. The project-affected people say that they were not informed.


But beyond the numbers, the people’s concern is the far reaching implications of the project on their lives and livelihoods. The people’s feeling of uncertainty and fear are well founded. This is the sentiment of the people living nearest to the project site — “Our houses and land are taken away from us. We live very near the project site, and we are talking about just a few meters and not ten kilometers away as claimed by the Bank.” In Kalimantan Barat, access to information is again a pressing issue. Mr. Petrus Atus, a “binua” or head of an indigenous people’s village in Sambas district, said that they are not aware.


Even SP Kinasih Yogyakarta, a non-government organization monitoring the Java south road project and supporting the concerns of project-affected people has this to say “There has been no public participation since the beginning of the road development project. People go there and just do measurements.” SP Kinasih underlined that information (and in the language understandable to the people) is wanting. According to SP Kinasih, the limited information is in English and accessible only through the ADB website. “We try to make information accessible to the affected people and seek audience with the local government, but even local officials cannot give information.”


Similarly, other non-government organizations monitoring ADB-funded projects have problems accessing project-related information. During the consultation, Peoples Alliance for Citarum (ARUM) coordinator Mr. Dadang Sudardja underlined that it is a challenge getting accurate information on the US$ 500-million Integrated Citarum Water Resource Management Investment Program (ICWRMIP) financed by the Bank. ‘There have been no consultations with the families affected, almost nothing about the project. This is about demolition of houses and massive displacement of hundreds of families. We’ve been patiently requesting information since 2008, but until now nothing has been disclosed.” This is also evident in the experience of KIARA (Fisheries Justice Coalition) in monitoring the Coral Reef Triangle Initiative. The main problem, according to KIARA representative, is the lack of public consultation and the ideas did not come from the people.


AMRTA Institute, the organization monitoring the West Jakarta Water Supply Development Project share similar sentiments. Mr. Irfan Zamzami noted that the ADB invokes that ‘certain information are confidential”, and withholds finance-related information, like the detail plan on how the loan was used. He also said that “this ADB-funded project is a pressing issue because water cost in Jakarta is the most expensive in Southeast Asia.” The on-the-ground realities in Java and West Kalimantan bespeak of the kind of inclusive and transparent information disclosure that the Bank is talking about. Undoubtedly, these affected communities have very little knowledge of, or worst, have no information at all on the ambitious Bank-financed regional road project. And in the absence of comprehensive, accurate and timely information, how do you expect people to have meaningful participation in the consultation and decision-making processes that directly affect their lives? It is time for the policy to catch up with reality.

* The Asian Development Bank approved a Technical Assistance (TA) to prepare the regional road development project in West and East Kalimantan and southern part of Java Island. This assistance is in preparation of a project proposal by the government of Indonesia for a road development project in the aforementioned regions. The project preparatory technical assistance (PPTA) was included in ADB’s Country Strategy and Program 2006–2009 for Indonesia. The Government’s medium-term strategy for the Ministry of Public Works (MPW) identified road development in less developed regions, including northern Kalimantan and southern Java, as a priority.

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