Government to unite and be clear on COVID-19 info

LP3ES Center for Media and Democracy’s researcher Wijayanto. (Photo: Prive. Doc)

IO, Jakarta – LP3ES Center for Media and Democracy’s researcher Wijayanto said that within fewer than 100 days since the Corona plague became an issue and a threat to Indonesia, i.e. at the end of January this year, Jokowi and his cabinet have issued 37 blundering statements in the effort to mitigate COVID-19. “13 blundering statements were made pre-crisis, 4 at the start of the crisis, and 20 blundering statements di period of crisis,” he said in the online discussion titled “Political Communication Blunders of Jokowi’s Cabinet during the Pandemic” held on Monday (06/04/2020) 

During the pre-crisis period, i.e. from the end of January to the end of March, the Government did not seem to respond to the threat seriously. Underestimating the disease to the extent that it denied any possibility that the corona has arrived in Indonesia despite warnings since the start of the year. The 13 blundering statements were made by 10 Government officials, ranging from the President, Vice President, the Minister of Health, Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investments, Coordinating Minister of Politics and Security, Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Minister of Transportation, Head of the Indonesian National Board of Disaster Management (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana – “BNPB”, Minister of Tourism, and the Director General of Transportation, all of whom denied the presence of corona in Indonesia. 

This denial caused the public to relax, and to fail to get ready for what’s coming. This in turn aroused panic among the masses in various forms, starting from panic buying to stigma against the first corona sufferers. The personal data of these first sufferers was widely distributed in social media. The panic was further manifested in the refusal of Persons Under Surveillance (orang dalam pemantauan – “ODP”), persons found positive of infection, and even (pasien dalam pemantauan – “PDP”). Their behavior includes lying about their condition, refusing to self-quarantine, refusing to be treated, and even running away from treatment. “The initial denial has caused us to fail to prepare our health systems early. Finally, our hospitals are not geared to face Corona – whether in terms of personnel, treatment space, down to the unavailability of medication and PPE. The lack of available PPE and the explosive number of infected persons have caused our health workers to suffer from exhaustion and demoralization. They are fighting a battle without armor nor adequate weapons, making them vulnerable to getting infected themselves. Until today, we have lost 20 health workers due to the infection,” Wijayanto said. 

At the initial phase of the crisis, which started from the time Jokowi announced the existence of the first corona-positive patients on 2 March, until 14 March, when corona is declared to be a national disaster, the Government issued 4 blundering statements. Finally, during the crisis itself, the Government issued 3 blundering statements concerning the nation’s emergency status. It was first declared to be a “civil emergency”, corrected as “civil emergency as necessary”, before finally being corrected again to “health emergency”. However, the announcement of emergency statement is not strong or clear enough to be implemented immediately. Furthermore, statements from the Minister of Home Affairs and Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment continue to make light of the corona. The former stated that the death rate is too low to worry about, while the latter states that corona does not survive long in hot weather. These encouraged the biggest blunder during the crisis: the polemic concerning returning to one’s hometown or village during the Eid-el-Fitr. 

Wijayanto states that the Government needs to be consistent in order to deliver the necessary messages all the way down to grass-roots level. They must be able to understand and accept the message. “Consistent” means that the President, Vice President, and the Cabinet must be on the same page at the same time. They should not issue messages that conflict with each other. Furthermore, the Government must be more transparent in order for the people to have faith and trust in the message. The public must be informed honestly why a certain policy is set. 

For example, in terms of returning to the hometown or village, why is it allowed? If we know for sure that COVID-19 will spread in crowds and therefore physical distancing is necessary, allowing people to return would actually make us question this knowledge. After all, we return to the hometown for a reunion with our parents, with our friends and families. Won’t returning home actually create crowds and spread the Corona virus? On the other hand, the Chief of Police threaten people who gather without purpose during the pandemic with imprisonment. “I believe that the Government needs to implement a “1-window” disaster communication policy. There should be a strict restriction about which members of the Cabinet may speak out to the media. Furthermore, good coordination between Ministers, the Head of BNPB, and Spokesmen is crucial,” Wijayanto said. 

He further believes that members of the Cabinet need to become more prudent in making statements in their personal Twitter or other social media accounts. “They should be forced to refrain from making any statement in the media. Ministers who are not related to the COVID-19 issue in their line of work should not get into the wagon of statement-making and spotlight-seeking. And most importantly, this is not the right time to be joking around about this issue,” he said. “Again, transparency and consistency are the keys for returning public trust in the Government. Only with the trust and support of the public can we survive this disaster together. Remember, the most important thing is humanity and saving humans. These principles should always guide our actions!” 

Political Factions 

Meanwhile, Lecturer in Gadjah Mada University’s Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Abdul Gaffar Karim stated that the Government’s blundering political statements during the COVID-19 pandemic occurred because of lack of awareness among our political factions and groups. They compete with each other to get the upper hand, so much that they create noise in the Government’s policies for mitigating the corona pandemic. “We see how these forces continue to compete even now,” he said. 

Gaffar said that the Government factions are related to electoral investments. Politicians tend to try to build up their popularity and electability constantly. Even though it is not the dominant force, electoral investment also determines how politicians will try to bring each other down, showing up each other in order to get the people’s attention. “This is important to them, as it keeps them on the top of the people’s mind,” he said. 

Meanwhile, LP3ES Director Fajar Nursahid said that the different statements coming from Jokowi’s Government confuse the people. This is something that must be corrected as soon as possible, in order to prevent riots from breaking the people apart. “Never mind proving something wrong, even something that is undoubtedly right can be perceived differently by different individuals in society. Especially now, when information is openly available in social media. The public naturally has its own filter for responding to reports during this pandemic,” he said. 

Fajar said that in this situation, Jokowi’s Government should not be ashamed of apologizing over mistaken statements made to the people within hours or days after they receive the correct information. “Furthermore, they should not hesitate to thank Regional Heads who have taken rapid steps to mitigate the spread of corona in their respective regions,” he said. 

Legal Immunity 

Similar to Fajar, senior researcher, academician, and econo-political observer from LP3ES Didik J. Rahbini highlights the fact that Ministers from the Indonesia Onward Cabinet requested legal immunity before they make any policy relating to the mitigation of the Corona virus. According to him, the Government Regulation in Lieu of Law No. 1 of 2020 concerning the State’s Financial Policy and Financial System Stability for the Mitigation of the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic and/or In Order to Face a Threat to the National Economy and/or the Stability of Financial System is logically and legally flawed. “How come Ministers request legal immunity in this Government Regulation in Lieu of Law Number 1 of 2020? This is an erroneous Government Regulation – there’s a lot of moral hazard here,” he said during a virtual discussion via Zoom Meetings held on Sunday (05/04/2020) night. 

Referring to Article 27 of this Government Regulation, officials from the Committee for the Stability of the Financial System (Komite Stabilitas Sistem Keuangan – “KSSK”), the Ministry of Finance, Bank Indonesia (BI), the Financial Services Authority (Otoritas Jasa Keuangan – “OJK”), the Indonesia Deposit Insurance Corporation (Lembaga Penjamin Simpanan – “LPS”), etc. cannot be charged either criminally or civilly as long as they perform their duties with goodwill and according to regulations. However, Didik also admitted that these Ministers have justification: “That is not exactly groundless. After all, these officials fear being criminalized according to some obscure interpretation of the regulating laws. There have been many examples in the past when officials who did no criminal action were actually criminalized by law enforcers. The Ministers, Bank Indonesia, even the OJK seek to escape the clutches of legal bandits,” he said. 

Didik reiterates that the Government’s insertion of the legal immunity clause in the above Government Regulation will cause negative implications in the future, as the precedent of asking for legal immunity will be followed by other officials even after the COVID-19 pandemic cools down. “To quote my dear friend Mr. Faisal Basri, this clause in Government Regulation in Lieu of Law No. 1 of 2020 is actually more dangerous than the Corona virus,” he said. (Dan)