Singapore. When President Joko Widodo appointed chief economic minister Airlangga Hartarto as the head of the Covid-19 response in July 2020, he was given so much authority that even the military and the police reported to him for coordinated measures related to the pandemic.
The government set up the Committee for the Covid-19 Handling and the National Economic Recovery, or KPC-PEN, two years ago to deal with the unprecedented health crisis while keeping the economy afloat across the sprawling archipelago.
In a public lecture at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore on Monday, Airlangga said health policies like travel and mobility restrictions quickly brought devastating impacts on the economy, “causing the unemployment rate to climb and poverty rate to jump”.
The committee was established on the idea that public health policies during the pandemic should not destructively compromise the economy, under what Airlangga said was the “brake and accelerator” policy.
“The president gave me the mandate to lead the committee and instantly my portfolio as coordinating minister for economic affairs expanded from initially the responsibility of coordinating nine economic ministers to coordinating very much all cabinet ministries, the police, the military, and the local governments,” Airlangga said.
That’s a responsibility normally reserved only for a sitting president.
Soon the new role preoccupied him because the committee should arrange testing facilities, procure and distribute the vaccine for over 270 million people, reallocate hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, and provide isolation facilities – all at the national level covering 34 provinces, over 500 districts and municipalities, and across more than 17,000 islands.
The committee is also tasked with planning social assistance for the poor; formulating programs to cushion job losses due to the pandemic; and developing a mobile app that shows users’ vaccination status, latest diagnostic test results, and recent travel history.
Two years have passed, and the Indonesian people were finally able to celebrate the biggest national holiday Idul Fitri and also Independence Day with friends and families this year although the pandemic is not over yet, Airlangga told the audience.
The Golkar Party chairman is widely considered a potential candidate for the 2024 presidential election.
He has a clear path to a nomination after Golkar joined forces with the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development Party (PPP) under the United Indonesia Coalition that has more than enough seats in the House of Representatives to nominate a presidential candidate.
Indonesian law requires a party or a coalition of parties to have at least 20 percent of House seats to nominate their own candidate.
Airlangga’s Golkar has the most seats in the lower chamber among the three coalition members.