What has the coronavirus pandemic “told” President Jokowi so far? #1

President Jokowi give a press conference on the coronavirus pandemic https://jakartaglobe.id/news/jokowi-urges-indonesians-to-stay-home

Today, more than 1,1 million people worldwide have been infected by the coronavirus. This global health crisis has not only disrupted the global economy and given geopolitical consequences but also has started to attack the domestic politics especially in democratic nations all around the world. There have been debates on the effectiveness of the authoritarian system compare to democracy in handling the impact of COVID-19.

As M. Taufiqurrahman stated in Jakarta Post on March 30, even on the established democracies, the threat of the coronavirus has allowed political leaders to indulge their authoritarian tendencies. Yes, the coronavirus outbreak is testing the world leaders’ leadership and ability to making difficult decisions at the time of crisis, and President Jokowi is not an exception.

After the first infection case in Indonesia announced about more than a month ago, there have been so many issues around this coronavirus outbreak. It is covering not only health issues, but definitely economic, social and political issues brought up together. This is obviously an unprecedented situation for President Jokowi, in the middle of his ambitious vision to develop a new capital city and continue all of his infrastructure development projects across Indonesia. Indonesia has been in the situation of the health crisis, but for him, I believe this is the first time.

Within this article, I am interested to list and break down what has the coronavirus pandemic “told” President Jokowi so far. I am not trying to assess the whole thing around this pandemic since it’s still happening anyway. But few angles are worth to be highlighted.

  1. A good public communication is extremely needed at the time of crisis

First is about public communication. Far before the COVID-19 entered Indonesia officially (the first announcement), the public has seen the way our Indonesian Minister of Health, dr. Terawan giving his briefing and statement on the risk of coronavirus. His statement was not only elevating the public distrust towards the Indonesian government but also has created public nervousness and panic.

“In accordance with [state ideology] Pancasila, our country believes in God. No matter the religion, as long as we uphold Pancasila, praying is of utmost importance. We work and pray. It’s an honorable thing,”

“We have to be rational; we have to avoid any inefficient budgeting. If I have to check everyone who coughs, what would the budget be?”

Those are two statements made by him when the government at that time still claimed zero coronavirus in Indonesia. We couldn’t forget as well on his way in debating the scientific findings about the undetected coronavirus cased in Indonesia and his blame to Indonesians who were panic and purchase masks to protect their health. Yes, dr. Terawan is a new minister, but I am even afraid to tell that it can be justified as an excuse. President Jokowi also criticized at that time for not showing up to the public, seems not to take the risk seriously.

Finally, on March 13, 2020, the Indonesian government established the COVID-19 Mitigation Task Force, as stipulated by Presidential Decree №7/2020 (Keppres №7/2020) and then the Indonesia’s Task Force for the COVID-19 mitigation launched a page www.covid19.go.id as the official source of information. The necessity to give a reliable, accurate and fast information is justified as the main reasons behind this.

To avoid the mistakes on the public announcement made by the government, the Director General of Disease Prevention, Achmad Yurianto appointed as the spokesperson of the Indonesian government specifically on this COVID-19 crisis. After this appointment, we are not seeing dr. Terawan any longer in the press conference. Many praised his communication abilities even tough one controversial statement on the role of “rich” and “poor” Indonesians in facing the spread of the virus by him made a debate among the society recently.

President Jokowi has made quite many official statements from the palace on the government policy responses amidst the coronavirus outbreak. All of those government policies in responding to the impact of coronavirus will not be successful without a socialization to the public, and it will not have happened without good communication. Yes, Indonesian needs a piece of clear and right information at the time of uncertainty like now.

Two weeks ago, I interviewed the Ambassador of South Korea to Indonesia, asking him on the success story of his country in handling the coronavirus outbreak, and two of the approaches taken by his government are creative policies and transparency. Those are claimed by him as the key to fight against this health crisis.

President Jokowi has ever even admitted the opaque communication by the central government is intentional to avoid public panic. It means only selective information launched to the public and it is obviously created a question on government’s transparency. Yes, transparency is now a problem in Indonesia. The difference of data between Indonesia’s central government and Jakarta’s government is one of the right examples to describe this. Let’s discuss this in the next section (#2)

The situation is now worsened by the fact that some businesses have filed a class-action lawsuit against President Jokowi on his failure or negligence in handling the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit was filed by group representative Enggal Pamukty at the Central Jakarta District Court. I believe the bad communication generally to the public and specifically to the businesses play a part in this situation.

“If only the central government had been serious in mitigating the COVID-19 situation from the start, fellow business owners and I would have still been able to make a living,” Enggal said. “[The situation] has deprived us of income, yet the government has yet to provide support.”

My last point is, a good public communication will avoid the rejection by the citizens of Natuna Island in accepting the Indonesians coming back from Wuhan at that time or will give less chance for politicians or oppositions to attack the government response in handling the crisis, prevent the businesses to sue their own President over his failure and most importantly provide more trust and confidence of the public in fighting this unprecedented health crisis.

As we all know, this problem will not be solved by the government alone, but it’s also need the active involvement and support from all parts of the society, and again it is always not be possible if a bad public communication still there.

I am open to listen what you think. Feel free to give your comments!

Notes: These writings are my personal observation towards the issues around the Indonesia’s government responses in fighting against the coronavirus pandemic.

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