Jakarta – The Indonesian Ombudsman has received hundreds of complaints about the distribution of COVID-19 social aid, including alleged recipient data manipulation and benefit cuts.
The reported data manipulation took place in Jambi and Papua, where it changed the number of recipients and replaced the original recipients' names with others who were not the targets of the program, Ombudsman chairman Amzulian Rifai said in a statement on Wednesday as reported by kompas.com.
He added that the cuts to the benefits in West Sulawesi had reduced the funds allocated to each social assistance recipient from Rp 600,000 (US$42.32) to Rp 300,000.
One month after the Ombudsman opened its online complaint service on April 29, 1,004 COVID-19-related complaints had been submitted, with 817 of which were related to social aid distribution.
Most reports, however, were not from the provinces where the alleged data manipulation and benefits cuts were later found. The reports were predominantly from Banten, West Sumatra, Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Central Java and East Java.
The Ombudsman reported that it had forwarded half of the reports to the relevant ministries, institutions and local governments. The Ombudsman, tasked with overseeing public services, said it was coordinating directly with decision-makers for priority complaints and was monitoring the subsequent handling of the reports.
Rifai said the reports related to social aid discussed issues of distribution delays and incorrect provisions for the number of recipients, priority targets and priority areas. Some also complained about unclear procedures and requirements for receiving assistance.
The government, Rifai added, should be more proactive in conveying information to the public and should prepare plans to resolve the obstacles faced by the community in obtaining social aid.
"Problems related to information and data on recipients and the distribution of social assistance can lead to horizontal conflicts in the community," he said.
Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) has argued that the problems in Indonesia's COVID-19 countermeasures have stemmed from the central government's division of responsibilities for similar matters between several different institutions. This division, the organization said, could create communication and responsibility gaps that could be exploited by corruption.
ICW coordinator Adnan Topan Husodo recommended that the central government apply a centralized pandemic response with open public access to regular data and reports on the use of state and public funds for both health and social measures.
To combat the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, the government has established or expanded several social aid programs, including its preemployment card program, free and discounted electricity, staple food assistance, and cash aid.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo believed that after receiving economic support, people might refrain from this year's Idul Fitri mudik (exodus). While reality seemed to show otherwise, experts and labor rights activists have considered the possibility that misallocation in the aid programs contributed to the flight.
The preemployment card program, for example, was heavily criticized for not contributing to overcoming the employment crisis. Critics said it was ineffective at helping unemployed people find jobs because the program had offered training without job placement.
On Wednesday, the government decided to extend the length of time staple food and cash aid would be distributed. The program was initially slated for three months, from April to June, but has been extended to the end of this year. The benefits will be reduced to Rp 300,000 from the initial Rp 600,000 starting in July.
Finance Minister Sri Mulyani said social assistance recipients were predominantly farmers, ranchers, and planters, followed by informal merchants, private workers, construction workers, factory workers, drivers, communication workers, and fishermen. (syk)