Made Anthony Iswara, Jakarta – Village administrations need to play a bigger role in containing the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak so they can carry out more effective preventive measures and provide social safety nets, a watchdog has said.
Regional Autonomy Watch (KPPOD) executive director Robert Endi Jaweng said on Tuesday that contradictory regulations, conflicting data and inadequate authority had hindered village officials in enforcing quarantines, imposing social distancing and disbursing aid.
As a result, many village heads, neighborhood unit (RT) heads and community unit (RW) heads have been forced to take their own measures, he said, which violates the 2020 presidential decree instructing regional authorities to refer to the central government's policies in making their own decisions and giving the COVID-19 task force the authority to mitigate the impact of the virus.
"Village officials are the real commanders in the field. They are told to go to war [against COVID-19] but they lack any authority to do so. They have to wait for everything from higher-ups," Robert said.
Giving village officials a bigger role in handling the outbreak would improve the government's COVID-19 measures, he said, as they were on the frontline and knew people's mobility and could distribute aid. The central government should also create an integrated database that was regularly updated and sourced from village administrations to improve its village aid distribution, he said.
In contrast, Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Minister Abdul Halim Iskandar said villages were relatively more effective in preventing COVID-19 compared with the national effort.
He cited data that showed that villages had about 186,000 people under monitoring (ODPs) in village-funded isolation rooms, nearly five times more than the national scale, and had many fewer patients under surveillance (PDPs) or those who have tested positive for the coronavirus. These ODPs, he said, also included outsiders from other regions who traveled to the villages during the pandemic.
"This is because, from the very beginning [...] we put the villages in the position of preventing COVID-19," Abdul said in a teleconference on Tuesday. "This is a very strategic position for the new normal."
The ministry also mobilized 1.82 million volunteers to raise public awareness about the pandemic, collect data on people exhibiting symptoms of infection and enforce social-distancing rules.
To help with economic aid, Abdul said that 87 percent of the total 74,953 villages nationwide had channeled some Rp 3.9 trillion (US$278.12 million) in cash assistance to nearly 6.6 million families as of June 8.
The assistance entails a Rp 600,000 grant per month for three months to families that meet certain criteria, such as having a family member who has lost their job during the pandemic and not having received assistance via the Family Hope Program (PKH) or the staple-food card program. An additional Rp 300,000 may be provided to families for another three months.
But Abdul acknowledged that several problems – like those related to data synchronization, village status or bank transfers – had either prevented the aid from being transferred to the village accounts or delayed the funds from being channeled to beneficiaries.
Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), meanwhile, warned that cash assistance and similar aid were prone to misallocation of funds and corruption as a result of the government's lack of transparency, an obsolete database and weak supervision of such disbursement.
ICW cited the misuse of BLT Dana Desa (village funds unconditional cash transfers) in Banpres village, Musi Rawas regency, South Sumatra, last month as one such example.
"Even though the village officials' roles are important, it is even more important for us to improve transparency and respond to complaints about social safety nets," ICW's Almas Sjafrina said on Wednesday.
Last year, ICW recorded 181 corruption cases in villages across the country since the inception of the village funds in 2015 until January last year, with around 30 percent of the cases related to village funds.
University of Indonesia (UI) epidemiologist Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono said, however, the number of PDPs and ODPs did not reflect the effectiveness of government measures as the figures showed that the COVID-19 contact rate – the number of contacts an infected carrier has with others – remained high.
He advised sub-districts and regencies to reach out to their villages for testing and educate the public on measures they have to take if they have COVID-19 symptoms to prevent a further spread.
Nevertheless, Abdul said his office planned to conclude its new normal protocols for villages by this week, which are aimed at preventing the virus spread and changing people's behavior with regard to hygiene and discipline in maintaining social distancing.
"COVID-19 presents us with an opportunity to become wiser by changing and improving the all-new situation in villages," he concluded.