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Jakarta Post

Critics pick apart Jokowi’s ‘characteristic’ COVID-19 response

  • Margareth S. Aritonang

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, March 22, 2020   /   07:37 pm
Critics pick apart Jokowi’s ‘characteristic’ COVID-19 response The government spokesman for the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, Achmad Yurianto (left), chats with the spokesperson of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, Agus Wibowo, after publicizing information regarding the handling of the coronavirus in Jakarta on March 18. Yuri said the government would soon implement a rapid COVID-19 blood test effective for patients who contracted the virus one week beforehand that can be done by all hospitals in Indonesia. (Antara/Akbar Nugroho Gumay )

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s lack of a clear and comprehensive plan to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus has both allies and critics calling for better solutions to avert the deeper crisis of a loss of public confidence.

Jokowi has mobilized all efforts to contain the pneumonia-like disease, save for declaring a state of emergency or imposing a lockdown on Jakarta, which has caused confusion and frustrated ongoing efforts to curtail any chance of social unrest that might unseat him.

Read also: Jokowi must make case for lockdown as COVID-19 may spark social unrest: Report

This way of handling the pandemic has led to a number of reactionary policies, his detractors have said privately, from unlawfully delegating responsibility to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) for declaring a state of emergency to the late introduction of “social distancing” and rapid testing to map out the extent of the contagion.

The absence of a carefully designed plan has led the President’s critics to call him out for exercising what they call the quintessential “Jokowi leadership style”, which is to let his aides jostle with one another about the best solution before eventually stepping in.

“For me it is obvious that the President has no grand plan,” lawmaker Hidayat Nur Wahid of the opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) told The Jakarta Post recently.

As a member of the House of Representatives Commission VIII, which has the authority to supervise the work of the BNPB, Hidayat argued that this absence of a plan has caused confusion and sown distrust for the Jokowi administration.

“The government has called on the people to not panic, but what it has done so far has convinced us to do the contrary,” he added.

The BNPB recently declared a “particular state of disaster emergency” until May 29 to contain the quick spread of the virus, but even then it was mired in controversy.

Under the leadership of Army general Doni Monardo, the agency initially declared the emergency status in a decree signed on Jan. 28, which states that “an emergency status is needed to allow emergency disaster mitigation measures to be taken”.

Read also: It's a non-emergency emergency, BNPB says regarding COVID-19 pandemic

The decree stipulated that the state of emergency would last for a month until Feb. 28, although the public got a whiff of this plan only very recently after the decree was leaked.

It remains unclear why this was not communicated directly to the public at the time of the decree’s issuance, although Jokowi has admitted to suppressing other information on COVID-19 so as not to stir panic.

Doni’s authority to call a state of emergency was also questioned.

The law doesn't confer any kind of authority to the chief of the BNPB to declare cross-province emergencies, said Anton Aliabbas, a researcher from a security reform and human rights watchdog, Imparsial.

"The agency only acts as a policymaker and not to declare emergencies. Presidential Regulation No.1/2019 does not even delegate that authority to the BNPB chief," Anton told the Post this week.

"Big decisions like this should be the responsibility of the President."

The 2007 Disaster Management Law confers authority to declare a state of emergency – including for a pandemic – on the President. Article 7 of the law requires the President to officially declare the situation an emergency and order the BNPB to draft, implement and coordinate measures to mitigate the crisis.

Well-coordinated efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the country are possible only if Jokowi carries out his duties as mandated by law, said Yandri Susanto of the National Mandate Party (PAN), who heads House Commission VII.

“It is supposed to be the President’s responsibility to declare a state of emergency when it comes to a national-scale disaster such as this outbreak,” he said.

“The situation we now face is an emergency; President Jokowi must declare this so as to make the public aware that there is a crisis.”

On Friday, Jokowi issued the revision of an earlier presidential decree relating to the formation of a COVID-19 task force to include the Defense Minister on the one hand, and to demote the Health Minister to deputy chairman of the task force steering committee.

Presidential Decree No. 7/2020 also delegates the task of cutting through red tape to the secretary generals of relevant ministries, as well as introducing a provision to ease imports on items used in the fight against COVID-19.

Calls for such measures coincided with a March 10 letter by the World Health Organization – a day before the outbreak was classified as a pandemic – asking Jokowi to scale up the response, “including declaration of national emergency”.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted a few days later that he had an “excellent phone call” with Jokowi, saying they “agreed to scale up cooperation”.

Doni extended the emergency status to late May as the number of recorded cases in the country spiked. As of Sunday, Indonesia recorded 514 positive cases and 48 deaths, giving it one of the world’s highest death rates -- not taking into account all unconfirmed and probable infections.

Elsewhere, some Jokowi supporters have called for the leader to increase efforts to contain the virus, including by deploying police officers and soldiers to help with measures nationwide.

“The police and the military have officers and intelligence agencies all across the archipelago that allow them to reach even the most remote areas,” said lawmaker Charles Honoris of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), calling for more effective measures.

As a member of House Commission I, which supervises the military and state intelligence services, Charles insisted the public is still unaware of the gravity of the situation and urged the President to make use of the security apparatus to “create the sense of crisis” so as to avert a possible lockdown that he believes could spark even deeper social unrest.

— Editor's note: Revised and updated with details of new presidential decree