The Jakarta Post
The government’s selection of partners to run programs to contain the COVID-19 pandemic deserves extra attention. Not only is taxpayer money being used to fund the battle against the outbreak, but also to help those who are ill and vulnerable.
The big-check spending on health care, social safety net and business rescue programs will only be effective if they are well-targeted and managed by those with capability and integrity. Unfortunately, there are precedents of misappropriation of government aid, especially for the financial industry.
These lessons are for the government to learn from and not repeat.
Start-ups with links to the State Palace appear triumphant as they dominate partnership to support government initiatives to contain COVID-19. Education start-up Ruangguru, cofounded by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s expert staff member Adamas Belva Devara, has been involved in the government’s recently launched preemployment card, a social aid and skills training program.
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Around the same time, another expert staff member, Andi Taufan Garuda Putra, issued an official letter with Cabinet Secretary letterhead asking district heads across Indonesia to support a COVID-19 relief program led by fintech start-up Amartha, which he owns and founded. He later apologized and withdrew the letter.
More start-ups listed in government programs include technology giant Gojek, founded by Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim, e-commerce platforms Tokopedia and Bukalapak, e-wallets GoPay, OVO and state-owned LinkAja, as well as telemedicine platform Halodoc — among others.
The logic behind the direct appointment may appear simple: In a time of crisis, there is no time for red tape to help those in need. However, putting the administration at risk of conflicts of interest undermines governance, which could undercut all of Indonesia’s efforts for reform. Besides, today is the perfect time to test and develop Indonesia’s progress on competitiveness.
Rules and regulations have been made to avoid conflicts of interest, including the requirement for tender for goods and services related to the state budget such as in Presidential Regulation No. 16/2018. Does Indonesia need a more stringent one similar to the US CARES Act, which prohibits any business directly or indirectly owned by the president, senior executive branch officials or members of congress — or their immediate family members — from receiving any relief funds?
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The government should not put governance at risk for the sake of speeding up efforts to contain the crisis. This would be like a bus driver driving recklessly fast to save a passenger’s life, but on the way he is endangering all the passengers. Speeding things up is important to contain the crisis but rushing carelessly would only result in regression that would slow down progress.
The government should actively review and monitor the performance of its partner start-ups while opening the door widely for a transparent and red-tape-free tender that provides a level playing field to all.
Social entrepreneurship has been cited as the DNA of start-ups and this is the best time for them to prove so and for the government to benefit from a free and fair aid system for all.