Freedom of expression and information are key in overcoming poverty and improving people’s lives. The availability and accessibility of information promotes transparency, ensures better governance and reduces inefficiency and corruption. Information gives people the opportunity to improve their own lives, participate in the decision-making processes that affect them and hold their leaders to account.
In Indonesia, parents of poor and marginalised school children used the country’s Freedom of Information Law to hold schools to account for how they used school funds. This enabled them to claim their children’s right to quality education.
Regional differences in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) targets in education are stark, with remote and poor areas lagging behind. In 2005, the Government launched educational financial reforms to address these education challenges. The reforms were designed to provide incentives for schools to maintain and increase enrolment, and gave schools greater say over how funds are spent in order to meet local needs.
However, studies indicate the lack of access to information has significantly undermined the effectiveness of these reforms. Many parents are not aware of the decisions being made that could affect their children. Schools often fail to communicate information proactively on budgets or the use of funds. The lack of transparency and public monitoring means that any potential misuse and misallocation of educational funds remains unchecked.
Linking access to information to quality education
ARTICLE 19 worked with our partner in Indonesia, PATTIRO, to empower local communities to make use of the 2010 Freedom of Information (FOI) Law. The aim of this was to obtain information on education assistance and to participate in decision-making and monitoring of the use of education funds. The project targeted parents in the economically disadvantaged districts of Lebak and Serang in Banten Province, which lags behind others in terms of its education indicators and position in the human development index.
Eighty-nine parents in the two districts were trained in how to use the 2010 FOI Law to learn about educational funding relating to their children. As a result of their information requests, the parents were able to analyse school finances. The groups checked the financial budget for the procurement of goods and services and compared it to the appropriate cost of those goods and services. They also conducted a price to value comparison of the quality of goods or services to check on value for money.
The outcome: “Extraordinary” results
The parents reported their findings to the local school committees. They identified discrepancies
in the use of funds and notified them of their intention to continue to request the information and to report future discrepancies to the authorities.
The information requests also led to more immediate and personal results. For example, parents who had not previously received assistance from the educational funds asked their schools for the criteria used to decide who would receive school fee and uniform subsidies. Those who discovered that they fit the criteria then demanded their right to education assistance from the schools.
The project was an excellent demonstration of the thirst for information in these communities. One team noted that after some of the Right To Information (RTI) training workshops, parents from other schools were waiting outside to ask how they could receive the same training in their areas.
Parents from both communities reported feeling “energised” by a sense of power and potential as they held local officials to account. The Serang team reported that the results of their financial review were “extraordinary”: they had never before thought they could do anything like this to hold the schools accountable.