President Joko Widodo, left, is accompanied by Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto when he announces the first Covid-19 cases in Indonesia in a news conference at the State Palace in Central Jakarta on March 2, 2020. (Antara Photo/Sigid Kurniawan)

Health Minister Under Pressure for Spending Too Little During Pandemic

BY :LENNY TRISTIA TAMBUN, HERU ANDRIYANTO

JUNE 30, 2020

Jakarta. Indonesian Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto has been in the spotlight recently after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo criticized the health spending as too little and too late as the country is struggling to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

Indonesia has 55,092 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus as of Monday, an increase by 1,082 from the previous day. More than a half of the total cases have occurred throughout the month, meaning that the health crisis is worsening at the current stage.

The respiratory disease has killed 2,805 people in Indonesia, while only 43 percent of confirmed cases have recovered.

In a video published by the Presidential Secretariat on Monday, Jokowi, visibly angry, blasted his cabinet members for “lacking a sense of crisis” and for “taking business-as-usual approach” into the devastating economic and health impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The president went on to specifically mention little spending on the health sector.

“The health sector has a budget of Rp 75 trillion [$5.2 billion], but only 1.53 percent has been spent,” the president said in the closed-door cabinet meeting on June 18.

A spokesman for the secretariat said the video was published on YouTube only recently because it took time to make sure the content was in the public interest and also to get Jokowi’s approval for its publication.

On the video, Jokowi instructed immediate spending on Covid-19-related supplies and allowances for medical workers, without mentioning Terawan in person.

The president said he had several options in mind to tackle the slow budget spending which he said had further hampered the national economic recovery program. Among the options was a cabinet reshuffle, Jokowi said.

Terawan’s credibility was also questioned during weeks after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak originating from the Chinese city of Wuhan as a public health emergency of international concern on Jan. 30.

The minister persistently denied that there were infection cases in Indonesia despite many people being admitted to hospitals in several cities with pneumonia-like symptoms and several of them ultimately succumbed to the disease.

Indonesia regularly received tens of thousands of Chinese tourists every month before travel restrictions were imposed due to the pandemic.

Terawan said at that time the zero infection was “a gift from God”.

Indonesia reported its first Covid-19 cases on March 2 and since then not much could be heard from Terawan in relation to the outbreak. The National Covid-19 Task Force has largely taken over the minister’s role in public briefing about the outbreak and in coordinating measures among provinces to deal with the pandemic.

Leader in Crisis

In another cabinet meeting on Monday, Jokowi again found a time to criticize the health spending. 

“Procedures at the Health Ministry must be cut off -- no more time-consuming process. If the ministerial regulations are too complicated, they must be streamlined,” the president said. 

The spending includes financial compensation for families of deceased Covid-19 patients and incentives to hospitals that treated Covid-19 patients, he said.

“Payment to hospitals must be made immediately, also incentives for medical workers and lab technicians. What are we waiting for? The budget is there to spend,” Jokowi said.

Presidential Staff Office Head Moeldoko said on Monday the president’s remarks weren’t specifically aimed at a certain individual, but they rather served as warning to the whole cabinet members that they should act like a leader in crisis.

“The president is concerned that his aides are taking the current situation as business as usual. His emphasis is that we are in the middle of a crisis that needs extra-ordinary measures, not usual ones,” Moeldoko said in a news conference in Jakarta.

Bey Triadi Machmudin, the press deputy for the Presidential Secretariat, said Jokowi’s remarks during the June 18 cabinet meeting were delivered closed-door. 

"However, after we reviewed the remarks by the president, we considered that there were many important things that the public should know. We therefore asked permission from the president to publish the video," Bey said.

"It took a long time to review the video, as we did it over and over again,” he said.

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