New Committee, No Strategy
The government seems to have lost its way in dealing with the pandemic. The effectiveness of the Covid-19 response and national economic recovery committee is open to question.
THE decision by President Joko Widodo to dissolve the Covid-19 task force and transfer its functions to the Covid-19 Response and National Economic Recovery Committee is an extravagance. The President should optimize the existing ministries and agencies rather than establish a new body that only adds to the bureaucracy and wastes government funds.
Established by Presidential Regulation No. 82/2020, the effectiveness of this committee is open to question. The new agency is led by Coordinating Minister for the Economy Airlangga Hartarto, who is assisted by six deputy chairs: three ministers and three coordinating ministers. This structure is rather unconventional because there are coordinating ministers from other areas of responsibility who will report to Airlangga. As the economic coordinating minister, Airlangga does not have the authority to give orders to other coordinating ministers. Conversely, it is only fair to question whether other coordinating ministers will follow Airlangga’s orders.
As well as chair and deputy chair, there is the position of executive chair, held by State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) Minister Erick Thohir. Under him is Chairman of the Covid-19 Task Force Doni Monardo, and chair of the Economic Recovery Task Force, a position held by Deputy SOEs Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin. This structure is also strange because Erick is under three deputy chairs who are cabinet colleagues: Finance Minister Sri Mulyani, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto and Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian. Meanwhile the position of head of the Economic Recovery Task Force is held by a deputy minister who does not have the authority to manage ministries or agencies, yet alone regional heads.
Instead of bringing hope that the handling of the Covid-19 and economic recovery will go hand in hand, this new committee has given rise to new concerns. There is the impression that economic interests will have an adverse effect on the handling of Covid-19. This worry was reflected in the merger of the Covid-19 task force into the policy committee as a work unit responsible to the executive chair and the committee chair. It was also seen in the comment by the minister that the committee’s efforts to bring about economic recovery are like the accelerator pedal, while the handling of Covid-19 is equivalent to the brakes. As long as the Covid-19 curve is still high, as it has been recently, the endeavor to bring about economic recovery will come to nothing.
The establishment of this committee gives the impression that the government has lost its way and has no overall long-term strategy to handle Covid-19 or for economic recovery. If there is a policy that is seen as having failed, the government prefers to establish a new body.
The President must drop this habit of establishing new agencies every time a policy or program fails. Disappointed with the performance of the health ministry in battling Covid-19, the President established a task force. When the task force was unable to overcome bureaucratic complexities, the President established a new committee.
With a problem of such scope that can no longer be handled by a ministry, the President should step forward and take charge. He must optimize the health ministry so it is able to battle the pandemic. Meanwhile to restore economy that has been wrecked by Covid-19, the President should task his economic ministers. If the aides in these sectors are unable to work properly, it is time they were replaced.