The Jakarta Post
The contradictory regulations issued by the Health Ministry and the Transportation Ministry on the operation of app-based motorcycle taxis (ojek) in the capital have confirmed the concerns of many observers: That the government is struggling to formulate a unified response to the worst pandemic to hit Indonesia since the Spanish flu brushed part of the archipelago in 1918.
For months, the news has been dominated by an apparent tug of war between the central government and local administrations over how to handle the crisis — a full lockdown or just a strict policy to restrict mobility. But the latest fiasco involving Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto and acting transportation minister Luhut Pandjaitan shows that even members of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Cabinet are far from united in their response to the outbreak, which has killed over 450 people in the country.
Terawan, widely criticized for downplaying the threat of the coronavirus outbreak and later bureaucratizing the response to it, has made it clear in his regulation that application-based ojek drivers are prohibited from transporting passengers in areas where a large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) order is in place.
His policy is consistent with the whole purpose of social distancing — an attempt to curb contagion by keeping people apart. That is why the minister refused to grant the request of Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan to waive the policy.
It boggles the mind that Luhut, the coordinating maritime affairs and investment minister, then issued his own regulation allowing app-based ojek drivers to serve passengers on the conditions that they wear masks and gloves, disinfect the vehicles before and after use and do not drive if they do not feel well. His move could easily be seen as a blatant attempt to upend Terawan’s policy. It raises the disturbing question of whether the Cabinet members ever actually sat together to discuss ways to effectively address the pandemic before issuing policies.
Indonesia badly needs a unified response to battle this virus, which has wreaked havoc in more developed countries in Europe and America. The contradictory policies issued by members of the Cabinet have created confusion among the public, undermining the whole effort to contain the deadly outbreak.
The Jokowi administration has been criticized for its policy flip-flops, a huge concern for businesses who want nothing but legal certainty. But we are currently facing a highly contagious disease that is killing thousands of people globally—and dozens nationwide — on a daily basis. We have no room for that kind of mistake.
President Jokowi must have a clear strategy to fight the virus and must get his ministers to work together to implement the agreed-upon strategy — not whatever springs to their mind.
The President has shown that he is serious about handling the crisis by declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a health emergency and, recently, a national disaster. But with his ministers saying different things within just a few hours of each other or issuing different policies within just a few days, the optics are not flattering for the President.
This may not be his fault, but it has reflected badly on him.