DUNCAN GRAHAM. When in doubt, think up a number

Indonesia’s second president General Soeharto had a fix-all to calm restless citizens demanding improvements. He’d pronounce a numbered plan.

Joko Widodo, the seventh leader of the nation, has ignored his millennial advisors’ recommendations for rapid and enforceable action to handle the Covid-19 outbreak. Instead he’s reverted to a response that kept his last century predecessor in the palace for 32 years.

As the pandemic continued to boil the president announced a ‘five-point plan’. The integer is important. It suggests serious analysis has been undertaken, anomalies eliminated and work underway.

The list topper in the latest Widodo version of sprinting on the spot is to ‘evaluate’ the social restrictions applied in just four of the republic’s 34 provinces.

In Vietnam Noel Coward wrote ‘only mad-dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’. He could have composed it in Indonesia. This hot-season fasting month isn’t the ideal time for public-service exertion so the ‘evaluation’ will plod.

The plague does not – it gallops, jumping work practices, cultural norms and religious observances. It’s a 24/7 tearaway. The latest figures show 13,645 cases detected and 959 deaths, but these stats are shonky.

Last week Wiku Adisasmito, head of the Covid-19 expert task force told journos all data would be ‘collected, cleaned revised and integrated’ so accurate figures can be presented. When? ‘Soon’.

Widodo’s Point Two seeks a 10,000 a day target for testing. It’s currently about 2,500.

This policy comes three months after the first Covid-19 cases were revealed in Jakarta. Malaysia’s goal of 16,500 a day is almost there.

No surprises here as the medical science driving reactions to the pandemic has not been properly explained leaving mad myths to multiply.

The fanatics soon sussed out Satan’s spawn, aka Bill (Globalist) Gates’ 666 microdot plot to vaccinate the world against Islam. Who knows what’s on the swab sticks imported from godless nations? Best not test.

The president told reporters he’d heard of people fleeing hospitals and clinics fearing confirmation of Covid-19. Patients under observation yet not quarantining and endangering others had also caught his attention.

Item Three is monitoring new arrivals, something other countries have been doing since February. The World Bank estimates nine million Indonesians work overseas in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East.

Thousands are now returning home as Covid-19 forces business close-downs abroad. Not all enter through controlled sea and airports, but dodge across the Malacca Strait using illegal ferries.

Amidst the chaos came reports the government would allow 500 Chinese into the country to work on a nickel smelter in South Sulawesi when millions of locals have lost their jobs. The arrival of the engineering specialists has been delayed following protests. This gross political clumsiness could let slip the dogs of sinophobia.

Point Four is telling bureaucrats to speed up distribution of funds to the broke and jobless. This has been difficult enough in Australia where most departments are efficient; almost all citizens have bank accounts and are online – which is not the case in Indonesia.

The media has been awash with stories of starving families waiting for government aid. However if the final part of the president’s plan is implemented the needy will have a hotline to call, assuming they’re not among the 30 percent without a phone. Whether anyone will answer – like Centrelink aka Services Australia – or do anything – is yet to be checked.

When grab-‘n-go numbered plans are launched it’s useful to ask: Why five points – and not six, or ten or whatever?

The Asian Development Bank offers an addition. It estimates 30 million urbanites don’t have access to soap and water, though this claim needs querying. Even in the poorest areas people bathe and wash clothes, though often in polluted rivers.

Some local authority progressives haven’t waited for the Jakarta thumb-twiddlers. They’ve mobilised utes with tanks and drums, many with sinks, soap and sanitisers. These have been parked at intersections for all to use.

The ADB report adds: ‘For the millions who live in slums, the overcrowded, unsanitary conditions are kindling for a swift and sudden wildfire of disease.

‘Investments in healthcare delivery and infrastructure at this critical time will also further the government’s goals to reduce maternal mortality and deliver clean water and sanitation to households by 2024.’

When my laptop was opened to keyboard this column, a fortnight-long lockdown had been ordered for the morrow. The lid was shut before sunrise. So was the plan. Come dawn it was on again.

Indecision here is aptly named plin-plan

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Duncan Graham has been a journalist for more than 40 years in print, radio and TV. He is the author of People Next Door (UWA Press) and winner of the Walkley Award and Human Rights awards. He is now writing for the English language media in Indonesia from within Indonesia.

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1 Response to DUNCAN GRAHAM. When in doubt, think up a number

  1. Bruce Haighl says:

    Well said. What a worry. It would seem that poor Indonesian leadership will cause many deaths and set the country back by a decade. Will China move to fill the economic vacuum or will old animosities preclude it? And if so what of recovery? And what of regional relationships,?

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