As Indonesia’s COVID-19 deaths continue to climb, economic recovery remains the focus

17-Sep-2020 Intellasia | ABC | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Obed Humutur was heartbroken when he was forced to sell his beloved keyboard.

The professional musician has not been able to perform in Jakarta’s bars and cafes since the pandemic hit.

“I’m disappointed that we don’t have income. We do nothing at all for half a year and there is not enough support for us,” he told the ABC.

Humutur said the only support he had received so far was a monthly care package from the government which included rice, tinned sardines, instant noodles and biscuits.

“That assistance can’t help us to pay our rent,” he said.

He is one of millions of Indonesians who are out of work due to the economic pressures brought on by COVID-19.

And things are likely to get worse for informal workers in Jakarta like Humutur.

The city this week re-entered two weeks of partial lockdown, which are referred to as large-scale social restrictions.

The measures were ordered by Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who like other provincial leaders, has at times clashed with President Joko Widodo’s government over their management of the pandemic.

Baswedan warned without the renewed restrictions, hospitals would reach full capacity in Jakarta, where new cases averaged 1,000 per day over the past month.

“There are not many options for Jakarta, except to pull the emergency brake as soon as possible,” he told a press conference.

But allies of the President have criticised the move.

Gembong Warsono, the head of Widodo’s PDIP party in Jakarta’s local Parliament, called for the restrictions to be cancelled altogether.

“Stopping activities across all sectors will only deliver a hard blow to the poor,” he said.

Resistance to lockdown

Back in February, as countries such as Australia were gearing up to close their borders, Widodo’s government paid travel influencers almost $8 million to promote Indonesian tourism.

Andri Satrio Nugroho, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF), said Indonesia should have instead closed its borders and implemented strict health protocols like those imposed during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

INDEF recommended to the government in March that it should prioritise public health over the economy.

“This would have avoided having to go back into partial lockdown now,” Nugroho said.

“What’s happened in Indonesia is the same as in the US.”

As Indonesia approached its biggest holiday, Eid al-Fitr, in late May, authorities were hesitant to prevent citizens carrying out the traditional mass exodus to their hometowns, known locally as Mudik.

Almost exactly two weeks after the holiday, daily cases jumped above 1,000 for the first time.

Cases have now surpassed 225,000 and Indonesia has the highest death toll in the region.

Yet at the beginning of September, the director-general of Indonesia’s health ministry, Abdul Kadir, warned against reimposing restrictions, saying it would deepen Indonesia’s economic woes.

“If we [go into] lockdown or restrictions [again], what happens? The economy won’t move and our country goes into recession,” he said.

The Ministry of Health did not respond to the ABC’s request for comment.

Epidemiologists say Indonesia’s first wave is not over.

“I believe that we haven’t actually reached the peak yet that might be longer than what we expect,” said Herawati Sudoyo, a senior research fellow at the Jakarta-based Ejikman Institute for Molecular Biology.

The country is also facing its first recession since the Asian financial crisis of 1997, which unleashed mass protests, riots and a political crisis that led to the fall of president Suharto.

“That’s going to make an Indonesian president somewhat nervous,” Jeffrey Neilson of the Sydney South-East Asia Centre said.

“If you can’t afford to lock down, then you’re running the risk of a major economic, political systemic crisis.”

Modest assistance for the poor

The Asian Development Bank this month projected Indonesia’s economy would contract by 1 per cent in 2020, possibly pushing millions into poverty. despite the fact the nation has earmarked 695.2 trillion rupiah ($63.9 billion) for economic stimulus this year, much of which is directed at social assistance for the poor.

Dr Neilson said while the stimulus was relatively small compared with other countries, Indonesia was in a better place to deal with an economic crisis than it was two decades ago.

“There is a system of delivering cash payments to the poor despite its deficiencies and possible corruption,” he said.

“That bodes reasonably well.”

Nevertheless, Economic Affairs minister Airlangga Hartarto revealed this week only about a third of the stimulus funding had been spent to date.

Failure to effectively prevent the spread of coronavirus saw Widodo establish the Committee for Handling COVID-19 and National Economic Recovery in late July.

Budi Gunadi Sadikin, chair of the committee, told a seminar last week he believed: “Leadership in the current COVID-19 era must be held by health experts and professionals.”

“This crisis is very different from previous economic crises because it was started by the COVID-19 pandemic, so all energy, budget, focus and policy responses must be aimed at handling health problems,” said Sadikin, who is not a public health expert, but rather Indonesia’s deputy minister for state-owned enterprises, and a former banker.

Widodo’s government is still keen to push through the so-called omnibus bill a controversial and wide-ranging set of labour market reforms largely aimed at attracting foreign investment.

Unions and community groups say the bill in its current form will further erode workers’ rights.

“It has the potential to let human rights abuses go unchallenged and give dangerous leeway for employers to exploit workers,” Amnesty International director Usman Hamid said.

“This is a serious threat to workers’ rights and human rights full stop.”

President remains popular despite COVID-19 numbers

Despite his perceived shortcomings in responding to COVID-19, Widodo remains popular.

A survey conducted by pollster Maiful Mujani in August found 67 per cent of Indonesians were satisfied or very satisfied with the President.

Widodo’s emphasis on keeping the economy ticking along is key to this popularity, according to Ben Bland, director of the Lowy Institute’s South-East Asia programme.

“On the one hand, the government hasn’t done a great job. On the other hand, I think people do understand the President’s focus on the economy,” Bland recently told the ABC.

“He’s really been pushing this message of, ‘Carry on as normal because that’s the only way people can keep food on the table for their families.’”

But for Humutur, mixed messaging from various levels of government has been a source of immense frustration.

“I’ve already given up to be honest,” he said.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-16/economic-recovery-still-priority-in-indonesia-covid-19-response/12662218

 


Category: Indonesia

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