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Building a House of Worship

The recent demolition of the Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi regency indicates, yet again, that the state (government) has not fulfilled its obligation to grant the constitutional right of the people to worship. The demolition of the church was a manifestation of the state’s arrogance toward its own people.


In the case of the church, formally located on Jl. MT Haryono, the source of the problem was its building permit (IMB). The local government had said that the construction of the church was illegal since it had not secured a building permit from the local authority. However, the church’s management told of how they had sought to obtain a permit since 2011.


This recent tragedy has lengthened the long list of similar problems in this country. Even today, the much reported dispute between Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) Yasmin and Bogor City administration is still underway.


In fact, although the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the GKI, the City Administration remains unwilling to revoke its decision on the IMB cancelation.


In a state of a “licensing-minded regime” like Indonesia, there is almost no economic or social activity free from the involvement of the state, which may be present as a license/permit instrument or control instrument. In the case of house of worship IMBs, the following points should be taken in to consideration.


First, the authority of local government — within the framework of regional autonomy — is granted by the central government. Therefore, such autonomy may not be used arbitrarily.


Second, in relation to the first point, local government conduct rests on the central government. The President and home minister have the right and obligation to instruct local governments to revoke decisions or regulations that are against the higher regulations (laws).


Third, the issuance of IMBs has often been problematic. We certainly adhere to the rules that every building must meet technical feasibility and spatial integration. However, in terms of IMB issuance policy in many regions, Hinder Ordonantie or Nuisance Ordinance (HO) requirements or neighborhood permission has always been an obstruction since it is not given objectively, rather, it is based more on majority versus minority consideration, or money compensation, and so on.


The requirement to obtain a HO, which dates back to the Dutch colonial era, has been distorted. During that time, the HO was meant to protect colony housing or businesses (object) from disturbance by the local people (subject). Now the essence has been changed, for example a disturbance is said to be caused by the presence of a building (subject) toward society life (object).


In the era of regional autonomy, house of worship IMB is not merely an administrative problem it has become a political issue. In the name of building permits, local governments are effectively blocking people’s access to their constitutional right to worship and perform religious activities. The main issue behind this controversy is intolerance of minority groups and the state’s failure to indiscriminately protect everyone’s rights to perform their activities (including religious duties) regardless of their status.


From this perspective, the IMB requirement is an example of how regional autonomy has denied the principles of pluralism in government conduct and society life. The autonomy regime fails to guarantee the good conduct of social diversity, while local government ignores to ensure that it is taking place properly.


In many places we can see the increasing domination of certain (mass) groups, and at the same time increasing number of primordial (religious) based minority groups. Similarly, we can see some elements in the community take actions repressively as “moral officers” in response to something they think as being “a violation”.


The implementation of autonomy without promoting the necessity of a united Indonesia will result in problems pertaining to the nation’s integration. This is a syndrome of decentralization “without nation”, an autonomy which doesn’t build a congruent relation between regionalism and Indonesia’s nationalism, rather, it brings up preferential regionalism and primordialism, which makes the region a mere space for living together, far from being socially uncomfortable.


However, the problems cannot be blamed on the local government only as according to Law No. 32/2004 on regional autonomy, religious affairs are not a regional government’s domain but part of the national governments. The fact that our local political leadership has been built upon sentiment and religious support has made it difficult for regional/local governments to uphold fairness or reject pressures from the majority group(s).


Here, policy and control instruments by the central government must be effectively carried out. If religious affairs are the domain of the central government, policies and regulations on worship activities and house of worship IMBs must also be valid nationwide. While the procedure should not be bureaucratic, verification of IMB need not necessarily be processed in Jakarta but can be carried out by central government representatives in the regions, i.e. the Regional Offices of Religious Affairs Ministry or Ministry of Law Affairs. Subsequently, the role of the local government is to provide clear and definite regulations upon spatial requirements, therefore, permission from neighbors — which by state administration law is absolutely not the party that has the authority to give a permit — is no longer needed.


The central government has to cancel all local regulations and decrees issued by heads of local/regional administrations deemed to be against the basic principles of pluralism and justice. Included here are the controls upon regions’ obedience to execute verdicts from court, such as in the case of GKI Yasmin. Without the state’s control, local/regional governments would continue to produce discriminative policies, while major community groups would continue “criminalization” upon vulnerable minority groups.

Robert Endi Jaweng
The writer is executive director of Regional Autonomy Watch (KPPOD), Jakarta.


--- (Source The Jakarta Post - Opinion) ---

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