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Jakarta Post

Managing social assistance

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, March 23, 2020   /   07:58 am
Managing social assistance Members of the Indonesian Red Cross prepare to disinfect Wisma Atlet Kemayoran, an athletes village in Central Jakarta, on Saturday. The village is set to be converted into an emergency COVID-19 hospital. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

As Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has declared a two-week state of emergency, until April 4, to help the city fight the COVID-19 pandemic, our biggest concern is not about the availability of money for helping the people hardest hit by stringent containment efforts, such as social distancing and travel restrictions, but the government’s institutional capacity to actually deliver social assistance to those people.

Although the government has been building up experience managing social safety net programs since the 1998 economic crisis and the geographical and social group mapping of the target beneficiaries has been fairly adequate, the coronavirus shutdowns have extensively stopped commercial and manufacturing operations, leading to prolonged worker furloughs and numerous outright layoffs, wiping out the livelihoods of millions of daily laborers.

The 2020 state budget allocates about Rp 372 trillion (US$23.28 billion), more than 22 percent of the central government’s budget, for social safety net programs through various forms of aid for health, education, poverty-alleviation, cash transfers, fuel, fertilizer, electricity, small-credit subsidies and, recently, preemployment cards.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati announced that realigning spending within the 2020 budget has enabled the government to appropriate another Rp 62.3 trillion for concerted programs to cope with the health crisis and its damaging impact on the economy, especially to extend social assistance to those adversely affected. Governor Anies said the Jakarta provincial budget would be able to provide cash aid for 1.1 million newly vulnerable people.

The biggest challenge is to reach out to the newly vulnerable groups: those street vendors, daily workers and employees who cannot afford to work from home because of a lack of digital equipment, families that cannot afford to help their children study at home during school closures and restaurants, bars, mom-and-pop retail stores and other small businesses that lack customers because of physical distancing measures.

Reliable data on these groups of people made vulnerable by the health crisis and its economic ramifications will determine the effectiveness of well-targeted social assistance programs. Unfortunately, we have yet to build a truly integrated social protection system, one that is based on a single, uniform database and co-owned by all relevant ministries and agencies.

Certainly, we cannot wait for surveys or studies to provide more comprehensive data on the new targets of social aid since the delivery of social assistance should have started last week. Therefore, it is imperative that the central government and local administrations team up with credible nongovernment or civil-society organizations to reach out to the target beneficiaries and to deliver social aid in a more transparent way.

It is most imperative in this kind of crisis that decision making and aid delivery is fast. This does not mean that we can simply ignore high standards of accountability. However, past experiences with government social safety net efforts show that state machinery tends to be so overwhelmingly preoccupied with oversight to prevent the misuse of funds that aid delivery is often delayed or even stopped altogether by excessive bureaucratic rigidities and inertia.