Marchio Irfan Gorbiano, Jakarta – The government missed its self-appointed target of disbursing cash transfer assistance ahead of Idul Fitri on Sunday, as various city and regency administrations still scrambled to fine-tune their beneficiaries data, contributing to ongoing delays.
They are part of the state's program to provide social assistance to millions of ordinary Indonesians who have little means to shield themselves from economic losses borne from the COVID-19 outbreak and its ensuing restrictions.
As of Tuesday, the government had disbursed cash transfers to 7.86 million out of the 8.3 million households from outside Greater Jakarta who were registered recipients under the social assistance program, despite going all out to reach its target.
It had ordered state-owned postal service PT Pos Indonesia, which it partnered with to distribute the aid, to take on longer hours for the cause and set up distribution points away from post offices in an effort to reach the intended beneficiaries.
However, the need to regularly update and verify the data of intended recipients had slowed the disbursement process, said Social Affairs Ministry secretary-general Hartono Laras.
"There are some regions that asked to have the disbursement delayed because they want to update their data. There are also regions whose [proposed list of aid recipients] did not comply with the budget ceiling," Hartono told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. "So we are disbursing to regencies that have asked for additional aid [first]."
On Thursday, the ministry said that the cash transfers have reached all 8.32 million intended households, but the number of recipients on the list also grew to 8.73 million.
The government initially aimed to disburse the cash transfers to 9 million households outside Greater Jakarta, but only 8.3 million were tagged for disbursement before the Muslim holiday.
The acknowledgement of flaws in the system has confirmed the critique of some good governance experts.
Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (Fitra) secretary-general Misbah Hasan said lengthy procedures in updating recipient data had proven to be another obstacle for the social aid program, which had already been complicated by travelers joining the mudik (Idul Fitri exodus) wave over fears of economic fallout.
Social Affairs Minister Juliari Batubara said, however, that the government was on track to conclude disbursements to all households before the end of the week.
The cash transfers are just one of the government's social safety net programs aimed at easing the pains associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, especially among the poor and vulnerable population, whose livelihoods hang in the balance.
They are among what the government calls non-regular social assistance programs intended for those unable to benefit from the Social Affairs Ministry's Family Hope Program (PKH) and staple food cards (Kartu Sembako) program.
Aside from cash transfers, the government also provides staple food assistance for 1.9 million households in Greater Jakarta in a bid to prevent people – particularly informal workers who have lost their income – from returning to their hometowns.In total, the government has set aside Rp 6.8 trillion (US$460.6 million) for staple food assistance in Greater Jakarta and another Rp 32.4 trillion for cash transfers for people residing outside of the megapolitan area.
Beneficiaries are to receive Rp 600,000 in cash or the equivalent in staple food for three months from April until June, with the possibility of extending the non-regular programs until December at half the amount provided at the moment.
Juliari also said the government was mulling over the inclusion of aid recipients from both non-regular programs in the ministry's Integrated Data for Social Welfare (DTKS) system, the official list of beneficiaries used as the basis for the nationwide distribution of social assistance.
"The government will deliberate their inclusion," Juliari told the Post in a text message on Wednesday.
Additionally, the state has instructed village administrations to disburse the same amount of village funds for cash assistance as the non-regular programs. Villagers who have or are vulnerable to falling into poverty due to the COVID-19 restrictions and are not covered by existing social safety net schemes are eligible, so long as they are confirmed by village authorities.
Next to acknowledging a lapse in the system, the ministry's poverty management director general Asep Sasa Purnama said the sheer variety of assistance schemes had also slowed the disbursement process, even though they weren't meant to overlap.
For instance, Asep noted that 31 people in Indramayu, West Java were found to be listed as recipients of cash transfer programs by the ministry and from the village funds.
A lack of coordination among state and village authorities has both sides questioning whether a potential beneficiary should be listed under one scheme or another, he said.
"Village officials suggested disbursing the aid to people already on the list from the central government, as it was for them a much simpler procedure to change the line-up at the village level," Asep explained.
To improve data management for the DTKS, the government should look into cutting red tape by further empowering local administrations with direct access to the central database, Fitra's Misbah said.
"Villages have the Village Information System (SID); if it can be connected to the central government's One Data platform, it should cut short the unwieldy bureaucratic process," he said.