Oei Eng Goan
As a seasoned lawyer, Adnan Buyung Nasution is well aware that what he did was a breach of confidence and he could be sued for giving information he should have withheld from the public about recommendations he had given to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono while he was still a team member of the presidential advisers.
Members of the team, known as Wantimpres, must abide by regulations saying that under no circumstances can they give information or make a statement about the nature of advice and recommendation they have offered the president.
But Buyung, the name by which the lawyer is popularly called, took the risk and wrote a book titled “Nasihat untuk SBY” (Advice for SBY), claiming it was his moral obligation to inform the public who had to foot the bill for all the facilities he enjoyed while working in the corridors of power.
“This is to commensurate with democratic principles and good governance which calls for public participation, transparency and accountability,” Buyung said in a “Kick Andy” interview program aired by Metro TV on Friday, when asked why he had written so many critical comments about the president.
A few chapters of the book, released in May, reveal Buyung’s bitter disappointment when he learned that Yudhoyono, contrary to his recommendation, had signed the Bill on Pornography following mounting pressure from groups of political elites and the outspoken lawyer’s grievances against inefficiencies in the government.
To Buyung, the bill, which was opposed by artists and women activists, posed a threat to Indonesia’s cultural diversity, and red tape hampered his direct communication with the president.
Buyung also criticized the president’s indecisive stance on important issues he considered endangered the unity of the nation, because the administration had failed to protect the rights of minorities, such as the followers of the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect, who have often been attacked by radical groups while receiving virtually no protection from the police whose duty is to protect them.
“Such permissive policy shows that the president made a grave mistake by bowing to pressures made by majority groups who happened to profess Islam,” Buyung said.
Scores of high-ranking officials, politicians and scholars have responded differently to his book. Some said that it is unethical for Buyung to reveal to the public what are supposed to be classified materials solely to be offered to the president, and hence legally he is wrong. Others, however, defended Buyung, saying that the “leaked” information does not jeopardize the nation’s security.
Breaching the government’s trust means that Buyung is legally wrong, but it does not necessarily mean that he is morally wrong. One can understand that certain wrongdoings are excusable when conscience is taken into account, such as the following situation depicted by Victor Hugo in his masterpiece, “Les Miserables.”
A poor honest peasant, Jean Valjean, steals a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving children and for this petty theft he is sentenced to five years in prison. Legally Jean is wrong, but morally his undertaking can be justified because he saves the children from dying of starvation.
Many who know Buyung, a crusader for human rights who has earned awards from both the Indonesian and foreign governments for his fortitude in defending marginalized people, believe that his book can inspire the country’s future leaders to run the administration in a better and wiser fashion.
“All that I wrote is mere facts and truth that I faced during the two years of my service as the president’s legal adviser. I’m prepared to face any consequences arising from my writing,” said Buyung, who turns 78 on Friday.
Denis Diderot, a noted French philosopher, said centuries ago: “We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little a truth we find bitter.”
Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at the National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.