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Jakarta Post

COVID-19 crisis exposes holes in social aid disbursement

  • Marchio Irfan Gorbiano

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, May 19, 2020   /   06:05 pm
COVID-19 crisis exposes holes in social aid disbursement President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo makes a visit to the Bogor Post Office in Bogor, West Java, to inspect the distribution of cash to local residents on May 13. (Antara/Arif Firmansyah)

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed fundamental problems in the distribution of social assistance, particularly the lack of reliable recipient data, as the government scrambles to shield the most-affected parts of society from economic pain.

The initial phase of social aid disbursement was far from smooth sailing after reports emerged about slow or mistargeted distribution amid red tape and a lack of coordination among central and regional governments.

Read also: Social aid feud between central govt, city leaves some poor Jakartans in limbo

The root cause of the problem, left unresolved for years, was the sluggish pace at which regional governments regularly update their list of beneficiaries, said Athia Yumna, a researcher at Jakarta-based SMERU Research Institute.

“Poverty is dynamic in nature. People who were poor last month could be better off this month, and people who thrived last month may become poor this month due to COVID-19. That is why regular updates of the database are necessary,” said Athia.

The disbursement of all state-sponsored social assistance falls under the purview of the Social Affairs Ministry’s Integrated Data for Social Welfare (DTKS), which was built upon a 2015 Statistics Indonesia (BPS) survey that sought to map out the distribution of wealth in the bottom 40 percent of the population.

The survey was the last of its kind to date, with the central government opting to give regional administrations the mandate to regularly update the database for their respective areas.

However, they proved to be too sluggish in the database upkeep, and the current health crisis has become its unraveling.

“The economic crisis caused by the pandemic should serve as a marker for all stakeholders to improve the data collection system, so that aid programs can be managed well both under normal circumstances and in times of shock, as is currently the case,” Athia said.

Read also: Poverty elimination back to square one as COVID-19 wipes past progress: Experts

The Corruption Eradication Commission’s (KPK) deputy for prevention, Pahala Nainggolan, said the agency had urged regional authorities to use citizenship identification numbers (NIK) to clamp down on mistargeted aid disbursement, which he also said was the result of outdated DTKS data.

Pahala argued that a lack of urgency among regional authorities to update their datasets had resulted in mistargeted distribution.

“We see huge inefficiencies [in aid distribution], with stories of poor people [not getting their share of relief] due to inaccurate data,” he said.

The KPK is working together with various stakeholders to monitor aid distribution and disbursement. It issued a circular on April 21 instructing the relevant ministries and regional officials to use the DTKS database as the first reference for distributing aid.

In the event of data discrepancies, the circular instructs that aid should only be disbursed to beneficiaries who meet the criteria, while new data should be submitted to the Social Affairs Ministry.

Social Affairs Minister Juliari Batubara acknowledged on Tuesday the difficulties in data collection at the local level, with various social assistance programs running simultaneously and from different stakeholders, including among Cabinet ministries and from city, regency and provincial governments.

He also admitted to a lack of coordination that had caused problems in the initial phase of aid distribution but insisted that regional authorities would take care of any data glitches.

Read also: 'Not our responsibility': Minister fends off criticism of COVID-19 social aid distribution

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has instructed the relevant parties to solve the data discrepancies and simplify disbursement procedures, so that the aid packages could be quickly distributed.

The government has allocated Rp 172.1 trillion for social safety net programs to alleviate the economic strain caused by the restrictions aimed at curbing COVID-19.

The funds are supposed to be disbursed through regular and nonregular social safety net schemes, which include the Family Hope Program (PKH), basic food cards and staple food packages for 1.9 million households in Greater Jakarta.

Some of the funds will go to 9 million households outside of Greater Jakarta through direct cash transfers.

Nonregular schemes are meant only for residents who meet the government’s aid recipient criteria but have yet to be recorded in the DTKS database.

The government has identified 8.3 million households that are eligible for direct cash transfers outside Greater Jakarta, which Juliari expects will be disbursed with the help of the postal service by Saturday.