President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s calls for greater transparency in the government response to COVID-19 has offered new hope in the face of national disaster.
To improve public access to information, the government should consider harnessing open fiscal data that seamlessly ties the pandemic budget and aid distribution on the official website of COVID-19. Through the system, the government can also promote solidarity and collaboration with citizens in monitoring, executing and evaluating funding and response plans to overcome a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. Thereby, the government can improve the accountability of the fund disbursement, step up efforts and save more lives.
According to Law No. 24/2007 on disaster management, the President’s recent declaration of the pandemic as a national disaster brings some consequences. Aside from bearing the responsibility for the funding, the government encourages community participation in the provision of funds. Moreover, aid management encompasses planning, use, maintenance, monitoring and evaluation of goods, services and national and international assistance funds.
During the emergency, the government must provide and protect the citizens, especially the vulnerable community members. The supply of clean water and sanitation, food, clothing, health care, psychosocial service, accommodation and dwelling space, therefore, must be available for those who need it. In this matter, open fiscal data can support such aid delivery by creating an enabling environment that will boost government performance and promote greater citizen participation.
First, a plan for the COVID-19 data integration, following the order of the President, can provide a head start for the government to improve its public services. Further, leveraging the official website of COVID-19 to serve as an integrated open data and budget portal, the government can bring transparency to another level.
This initiative will enable the government to disclose its performance to the people by providing real-time progress of the planning, budgeting and spending over COVID-19 responses. Consequently, citizens can monitor the entire effort, holding the government responsible and accountable for the process. Transparency serves to provide accountability and legitimate citizen rights to proper outcomes from the government.
While the people will be able to see where the bottlenecks are, public monitoring and pressure can also motivate the government to find the best solution, using a rigorous and data-driven approach in policymaking. The insights generated by this tool will also allow the government to align its spending and outcomes. With systematic analysis and reliable data in hand, it is more compelling for the government to justify and convince people on the solutions chosen and actions taken.
As stated by the Overseas Development Institute, circumstances surrounding emergencies pose the risk of corruption. The pressure to disburse aid immediately, large-scale procurement processes and an expanding budget may create power imbalance and information asymmetry and thus presents opportunities for actors involved to corruptly divert the disaster aid.
There lies a challenge to translate allocated funding into commensurate benefits on the ground. This open data mechanism, hence, can be a tool to eliminate the information asymmetries, align the interests of all actors and ensure the aid people receive is as what has been promised and initially planned. As a result, the government can work effectively.
Moreover, in this extraordinary time, the government can show its best performance by exercising robust policies that can endure great shock and navigate turbulence despite a high degree of unpredictability. Despite all odds, the government needs to ensure that various measures implemented have addressed people’s needs.
It must also guarantee that its pledge can be fulfilled, by immediately disbursing Rp 75 trillion (US$4.54 billion) for health care and Rp 110 trillion for social safety net programs, and accelerating other measures that are still in the pipeline to be delivered on time. Thus, the government must regularly assess and evaluate the program efficacy and, ultimately, improve the disaster response based on the evaluation findings.
Second, through the open fiscal data, citizens can see how the COVID-19 disaster strategy is linked to funding and execution, and how the policy translates into practice and actions taken by the government. This way, the government can prove that it will take whatever steps needed to protect the people. The citizens can, then, rest assured that the government effectively responds to their concerns, and the substantial efforts to address their needs have been undertaken.
Feeling secure and having their basic needs fulfilled, they can be convinced to act responsibly and support government efforts. As a result, they can participate in creating an atmosphere that is conducive to winning this battle together. After all, we can only expect citizens to act responsibly and rationally if they are well-informed, safe and sound.
Moreover, the government can promote a feedback loop that empowers citizens to participate by supplying real-time feedback on the benefits delivery. For instance, they can verify once they receive the benefits, or report it if otherwise. They may also be facilitated to voice their concerns and influence the policy, including urging for more budget reallocation if such action is needed to further curb the virus spread.
In turn, public participation through this system will grant citizens a strong sense of involvement in policymaking that generates the genuine rule of law and support to the government. Consequently, improved transparency may boost solidarity to the government endeavors in this turbulent time. Conversely, the lack of openness may perpetuate a false sense of security, misinformation and harmful actions. It could also trigger contagious anxiety, leading to the stigmatization of the COVID-19 victims and patients.
However, transparency and accountability is only one element in good governance. It must come as a package deal with credible information, especially accurate data on case numbers and fatality rate, as was highlighted by the President in a Cabinet meeting last week. It also has to be a part of a policy mix that addresses every root cause specifically, under effective emergency management that works closely with experts and professionals and collaborates with other countries.
Ultimately, establishing transparency requires decisive policymaking to communicate the policy and actions effectively and consistently.
Communications strategist of the Finance Ministry. The views expressed are her own.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.