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Indonesian CSOs – Formal status as strategy

Sunday, 30 December 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

The survey (of 268 CSOs during this study) shows that 73.13% of respondent CSOs are formally registered organisations. While this may sound strange recognising that many social movement organisations are informal (Crossley, 2002; Davis et al., 2005; Della-Porta and Diani, 2006), interviews may be able to provide some explanation. The program manager of Yayasan SET explained explicitly that, “in legal terms, all [CSOs] are foundations. What we have [termed as] NGOs, LSMs, CSOs – they are all [legally registered as] foundations” (Kristiawan, interview, 28/10/05). Kristiawan’s explanation confirms findings from previous work. In their attempt to escape from government control, there was a period when many Indonesian CSOs felt it necessary to formally register with the notary as a foundation (yayasan) as this would provide a necessary legal basis for the organisations’ existence and at the same time ‘exempted’ them from current laws aimed at controlling CSOs’ activities (Bunnell, 1996:198; Eldridge, 1995:7-8; Hadiwinata, 2003:95-96).

Indeed, in the late 1980s Indonesian CSOs registered themselves with a notary as a yayasan (foundation) to avoid the imposition of the sole ideology (Azas Tunggal Pancasila) from the government under Law No. 8/1985 concerning mass organisation (UU Ormas). Now they alter their legal status into perkumpulan (association) in order to both continue avoiding the government’s new control strategy using Law No. 16/2001 concerning foundation (UU Yayasan) and more importantly to maintain their own organisational integrity, for yayasan appears to be more flexible, less democratic and less autonomous in nature – in the sense that organisational power accumulates in the board of foundation.

Association-type CSOs interviewed during the study confirm this suggestion. Urban-Poor Linkage (UPLINK) deliberately opted to be legally registered as an association because its feature of informality ‘does matter and makes work a lot easier’ as revealed by its National Coordinator, Ujianto in interview. Besides this, he added,

There is something more fundamental, though, [that by becoming an association] we have to have an annual meeting. This is our highest reference for rules, agreements, etc. as the highest decision [made during] the annual meeting. […] The founders are no more important than others. It is those who really work that we have to pay attention to, not just those who are listed in the committee. (Ujianto, interview, 24/11/2005)

Pradjasto of DEMOS, an institute for research centred on democracy, furthermore, sharpened the reason why being an association is more contextual. To him,

The current context is centred around the issue of freedom of expression. Thus old-style organisations like yayasan must be changed, for example, into perkumpulan whose basis is the people themselves so that it can be independent. (Pradjasto, interview, 17/01/2006)

What Ujianto and Pradjasto stated accurately pictures the problematic status of yayasan. Therefore it comes as no surprise that CSOs with a current legal status of foundations are changing their mind, like a prominent group in the environmental movement in Indonesia, YPBB or Yayasan Pengembangan Biosains dan Bioteknologi (The Foundation of Bioscience and Biotechnology) which explicitly stated its intention to change their legal status into an association because “the nature of a foundation does not actually fit because it is not democratic” (Sutasurya, interview, 16/11/2005). And fluid groups which are considering legalising their activities are also opting to perkumpulan although they want some privilege to manage the membership like the case of Rumah Sinema that,

Up to now we haven’t had any legal status. We are not yet officially registered, but our organisational management has been more like an association so far. An association with some limits, to be precise. [What we mean by that is] the association is not open for everyone, but only for certain individuals. Anyone can actually join any association, but [for us] there are certain eligibility criteria [for those wanting to join our association]. (Fauzannafi, interview, 02/12/2005)

Clearly, for Indonesian CSOs, formal status is just a matter of choice. But the choice itself makes up an important part of their strategy as social movement actors(*)

Source: Fieldwork interview (2005-2006), and author’s reflection
(PhD Thesis, Nugroho, 2007:151 – Box 4.1.)

Picture for this post is taken from Wikipedia – depicting Mayday rally 1 May 2003 in Jakarta

  1. Monday, 4 August 2008 at 6:59 pm

    good job,

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