There has been massive criticism over the government’s lack of transparency, especially during the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Time of misinformation leads to fear, while knowledge could serve as the antidote. However, we have a situation here: The insufficient capacity combined with lack of transparency results in fears and diminishing public trust.
First, the government faces the problems of insufficient healthcare capacity and steep economic downturn, and it simply has no clue of who have been infected. Data shows that Indonesia only has 1.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people, 2.7 emergency beds per 100,000 people, and 0.4 doctors per 1,000 people. While the health minister has appointed 132 hospitals across the country to handle the pandemic, state-owned hotels have also been turned into hospitals, the number is still insufficient when the virus is predicted to infect 8,000 people by April.
Second, while people are afraid of losing their lives, they also fear losing their livelihoods. More than two-thirds of the labor force or about 77 million work in the informal sector, including micro and small businesses, street vendors and other daily workers.
Physical distancing and staying at home could deprive these workers of their jobs because most of them have to go to workplaces to perform their duties. The government’s suggestion to stay at home and work from home to reduce the spread would hardly apply for all.
On the other hand, one-third of the labor force or 34.84 million work in the formal sector as employees and laborers. With many manufacturing and service companies facing nose-diving sales and liquidity pressures, quite a number of these businesses may also have to subject their employees to furloughs or outright layoffs, if the government does not give them stimulus.
The government has to collect reliable data on the people most vulnerable to the impact of the health crisis and should be able to detect those infected with the virus and those whom these people have been in contact with in order to curb the virus spread further.
In the middle of the chaos, there is actually a way to increase government transparency while at the same time creating an employment scheme for people. However, it is impossible to be done only from the government side, it is twofold: they need us. And here is the thing that we can do together.
Imagine this was 1998, when Indonesia endured a political and economic crisis. People lost their jobs, livelihoods were threatened, followed by social instability. The government launched a package of social-safety net programs specifically targeted at the victims of the economic crisis. These programs included cash transfers and creation of jobs in public works.
Now, fast forward 22 years. Employment creation could be done through online retail services that need a large number of app-based drivers to distribute food and basic necessities during this time of physical distancing, crowd suppressions and travel restrictions. However, more proactive, instead of reactive, actions need to be taken to flatten the curve of the virus spread. We can provide an employment-creation scheme that allows people to work together to help contain the virus. Here are several steps.
First, the government has the capacity to easily create a platform or database where people could have an activity log of where they go, what they take, whom they meet. We gather as much data. As much is better than nothing. The government can also partner with telecommunications companies, healthcare and tech platforms to pool the data.
Second, through the platform, the government can assign people to trace all those already in contacts with infected people. Setting up a certain standard and making the system allows people to receive notifications and work from home. The contact tracing could work through the identification of positive virus cases, checking the activity log, verifying information, identifying close contacts, quarantine and monitoring. They can generate income through this.
Third, to reduce the cost of quality training, the government can incentivize and subcontract to industries, especially those that have been widely impacted by the pandemic, to train their employees. This could help private companies and their employees operate and increase velocity.
We have a situation that could save lives and livelihood from healthcare and economic catastrophe. Everyone’s transparency could generate mutual trust and clear action. We all can work together to combat this. Call this everyone’s social safety (inter)net.
Social affairs specialist working in the public sector; holds MSc in social policy and development from the London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.