Johan B. P. Maramis:
When I was with the Indonesian European University, I received a call one day from Mr. Kharis Suhud, Speaker of the Indonesian Parliament and People’s Congress. It was on July 1990.
I happened to know Mr. Kharis Suhud from the time he served as Indonesian ambassador to Thailand and concurrently Indonesian representative to ESCAP in the mid-1971. Mr. Kharis Suhud had called to inform me that he wanted to nominate me as the Indonesian candidate for the post of Secretary General of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary organization (AIPO).
I was very surprised by his offer and jokingly remarked that he might have called the wrong party by mistake since I have been in retirement for about ten years. Yet I found it a great honour to be considered despite having been away from official duty for such a long period.
As it turned out, I was one of the five candidates to be considered for the position; ultimately the Indonesian parliament selected me. At AIPO’ s General Assembly session in Singapore in September 1990, I was officially appointed as the first Secretary General of AIPO for a period of three years.
Promoting the goals of AIPO
The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organization consists of the Parliaments of five ASEAN countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. AIPO was formally established on 2 September 1977 with the general goal of enhancing friendship and mutual co-operation in matters affecting Southeast Asia in order to promote regional peace, stability and prosperity. Specially AIPO intents to promote closer inter-parliamentary co-operation among the ASEAN member countries and closer contact and understanding among their members.
In promoting the goals of ASEAN as stipulated in ASEAN Declaration of August 8, 1967, AIPO believes in the need to concert common efforts toward giving concrete substance to brotherhood and friendship as well as meeting the challenges faced by society in this modern age. Its aims itself to address these common problems through studies, discussions and recommended solutions.
AIPO was organized to address world problems that are growing in scope. Its Working Committee and General Assembly are held every year with the venue selected alphabetically on rotational basis among member’s counties.
Brunei although an ASEAN member is not included in AIPO since its government has no parliament. However it was accorded special observer status. Besides ASEAN members, other countries having observer status in the larger ASEAN forum are invited in AIPO as observers.
The organs of AIPO are the General Assembly, Working committees and the permanent Secretariat. The Speaker of the parliament of the host country becomes President until the closing ceremony of the conference in the host country. Discussions in the General Assembly usually cover subjects in the political and security, economic, social and organizational fields.
The functions of the Working Committee are among others, to propose the agenda of the General Assembly to clear and submit draft resolutions and other recommendations and to prepare the Joint Communiqué.
The Permanent Secretariat of which I became its first head, has a number of functions. It served as the central administrative office, prepares materials to be submitted to the Working committee and General Assembly, and carries out all the responsibilities assigned to it by the General Assembly. The work of the Secretariat was previously handled by the host parliament. The annual budget is in the amount of US 150.000 thousand dollars equally divided among the five members, which worked out to US$ 30.000 per parliament per year. The AIPO Secretariat number 8 which consisted of myself, the Deputy Secretary General, an administrative officer and clerical staff.
The four committees in AIPO discuss a range of issues covering their respective fields. In the political field issues which are usually discussed include international and regional political and security matters, the endorsement and review of AEAN initiatives such as the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan) the question of regional co-operation and others. The economic committee reviews the progress on intra-ASEAN economic co-operation and issues such as co-operation in tourism, whereas the social committee studies issues such as the protection of migrant workers, protection of children and public health. The organization Committee discusses internal organizational matters.
It was obvious that with such limited staff and financial resources at its disposal, the AIPO secretariat could only perform peripheral functions such as notifying non-members, including governments and international organisations, about AIPO’S decisions and recommendations of the General Assembly; following up specific recommendations addressed to the governments and international organizations; acting as the official channel of communication, maintaining closer contact with ASEAN secretariat and preparing for the General Assembly session.
Improvements in function and structure
To improve the effective functioning of the Secretariat in my first session as Secretary General, I proposed to specify and or enlarge the secretariats function to include the appropriate facilities for the proper functioning of the central administration office such as a computer network and a central library to establish a database of pertinent and timely information.
I further suggested to add a study research function for the secretariat with a view to conduct analytical research in areas of interest of AIPO, to initiate practical regional co-operation programs and to draw up short-, medium- and long-term programs for AIPO.
Another role that the secretariat should play was to act as the operational arm of AIPO, which would involve the implementation, co-ordination and monitoring of AIPO decisions and resolutions, in addition to servicing the committees and the General Assembly.
I also suggested changes in the organization structure to add among others a Standing Committee to consider the report of the study committees, and to prepare the agenda and documentation for the General Assembly.
My recommendations were considered premature since these could only be taken up at the end of my term. I also suggested mobilizing extra-budgetary resources that I had done successfully at ESCAP to add more staff and to finance important programs in case the AIPO members were not willing to increase their contribution. This proposal was also turned down since AIPO wants to keep the Secretariat deliberately small and less prominent. In this connection it may be recalled that it took the ASEAN secretariat nearly 25 years before the member governments resolved to expand its role and accord the Secretary General the rank of minister. It was feared that the secretariat would become too powerful. I thus had to work within this staffing and financial constraint and with limited mandate.
After having observed my first AIPO session in Singapore, and based on my experience in Bangkok, I decided to make certain changes. I had first to popularised AIPO. Frankly, I had only a vague idea of what AIPO stood for, when Mr. Kharis Suhud selected me as candidate for the post. One of my first task was to issue a general information pamphlet clarifying the aims and purpose of AIPO, and to distribute a quarterly publication concerning parliamentary news on relevant topics in the ASEAN countries. I made effective use of the print and broadcast media and gave press interviews particularly when the AIPO session took place in Jakarta in 1992. Unfortunately however I had to discontinue those efforts because of lack of funds I also had to prepare AIPO’s annual sessions more efficiently.
As there were practically no supporting documents available at these sessions, the discussions were not clearly focussed on the subject at hand. There were also many items on the agenda that due to time constraints could only be discussed superficially. I tried to streamline the agenda but could not get away with dropping some items that the previous session had requested to continue. I also introduced an annotated agenda for every subject. The documentation was, however, quoted from official sources in particular from the official ASEAN meetings, since I had no means of conducting analytical studies.
I had to limit myself to only a few activities that I could implement usefully within the short period of my 3-year tenure.
I arrange more inter-parliamentary visits as well as visits with parliaments outside AIPO. In fact I successfully organized a visit to Thailand, a member of AIPO, and also to the Republic of China, Vietnam and Laos, all are non-members. Two meetings with the European Parliament, one of which was convened in Jakarta and the other one in Strassbourg, the seat of the European parliament, took place during my term.
I was also invited by the Konrad Adenauer stiftung foundation to visit Germany to learn more about their parliamentary system and to provide more information about AIPO.
My deputy, myself and another secretariat member of the Philippines congress were very well received and had an extended tour in Germany. In view of the success of those early visits, the General Assembly suggested further visits to the Asian-Pacific region such as North and South Korea, Myanmar and Cambodia. Furthermore I had to work for further harmonization for legislation among the
ASEAN members. I concentrated on non-controversial issues that would constitute a framework for common legalization to be enacted by the respective member parliaments.
Some important achievements.
What I considered to be remarkable achievements were the consensus on two subjects during my terms of office.
The first one concerned drug legalization. With the active support of the Malaysian parliament, AIPO was able to agree on a number of important issues that would constitute the framework for legislation on narcotic and drug abuse and rehabilitation. These included stringent laws that would effectively combat the production of narcotic, curb drug trafficking and anti drug abuse, and which would serve as a deterrent to organized drug syndicates.
The second touched upon human rights that formed the basis for a study committee meeting organized by the Indonesian parliament.
This study committee in turn was able to draft an ASEAN Declaration on Human rights that was subsequently approved by AIPO. The Declaration stressed, inter alia, that human rights were indivisible and comprise civil, political, social and cultural rights, and should not be addressed selectively but must be promoted without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. The Declaration also stressed that human right has two balancing aspects, those with respect to rights and freedom of the individual and those that stipulated obligations of the individuals to society and state. The universal promotion and of human rights should be placed in the context on international co -operation based on the concept of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. Development was also considered as a fundamental right. Growth and stability were linked by an unremitting search for a balance between the claim of the individual and those of the community to which the individual belonged and through which many individual rights were realized.
Subsequently in pursuance to my efforts, AIPO at is session in Manila in 1994 adopted the AIPO Declaration on Environment and Protection of Wild life that was drafted by a study committee in Jakarta. It also accepted the offer of the Malaysian AIPO national group to draft common legalisation pertaining to environment issues.
The General Assembly also agreed to establish an Ad-Hoc committee to promote mutual understanding and the exchange of information of the laws of ASEAN member states which Singapore offered to host.
At nearly every General Assembly session the question of an Asian parliament was raised but regularly postponed, since some of the members were of the view that an Asian Parliament at this juncture was premature. The Philipppines however persisted and at the session in Manila, the Assembly mandated the Committee on Organizational Matters to find ways and means to strengthen legislative co-operation and inter-action in AIPO and ASEAN and to promote the evolution of AIPO as the core of eventual of ASEAN legislature in the future.
An ASEAN Parliament should be the final objective of AIPO. By exerting more efforts on the question of harmonization of legalisation on a wide range of issues in member parliaments, this objective may indeed be achieved one day.
Because of the obvious constraints of a small staff and limited financial resources, and restricted mandate, I could not accomplish as much as I have wanted in a relatively short period of three years.
I believe, however, that I had contributed to the promotion of closer inter-parliamentary co-operation among the parliamentarians within and outside AIPO, while assisting in the general goal of AIPO to enhance friendship and co-operation in matters of mutual concern.
Posted April 28, 2002