Thursday, 29 Jul 2021

Indonesia's tech ambition: Jakarta Post contributor

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Becoming an excellent tech player is arguably the ambition of every country in the region, if not the world, and Indonesia is no different.

Yet in order to achieve this status, a country is required to have both physical (tech infrastructures and ecosystems) and behavioural (collaboration and data-driven mindset) aspects running in every single element of life.

While the emergence of physical developments, like Bukit Algoritma in Sukabumi, West Java, reflects the nation’s willingness to satisfy the first aspects, the behavioural aspects are still lacking, especially when it comes to the policy making practices of the government during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As we speak, Indonesia has had over 2.3 million Covid-19 cases and these numbers are still counting due to the ongoing second wave.

For some international spectators, the current Covid-19 situation in Indonesia, if not managed properly, is feared to replicate the pandemic crisis India went through several months ago.

Departing from this, a simple question is raised: What went wrong? The best possible answer is nicely summarised by Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist from the University of Indonesia (UI), as “herd stupidity”, originating from people’s low compliance with basic hygiene practices (for instance, mask-wearing and hand-washing habits) and the government’s meaningless and inefficient mitigative policies.

The solution to dissolve this herd stupidity could be in the form of citizens’ attitude transformation toward basic hygiene practices and the improvement of the government’s leadership.

While the former could be obtained through constant communication campaigns, the incorporation of tech-related initiatives in the mitigation plans should be useful in addressing the latter.

As a country that has a strong tech ambition, Indonesia should have paid more attention to these alternatives sooner in order to better control the virus outbreak.

Yet the absence of tech-related mitigation strategies, the lack of fact-based decision-making capacity (or willingness) and the soaring organisational pride among government officials and agencies have been constant issues in actualising a more evidence-based, functioning government in curbing the pandemic.

For instance, the first two issues mentioned above could have been more understandable if pandemic-related open data had been unreliable.

Yet the availability of processed data provided by open-source websites and volunteers, like Worldometer and KawalCovid-19, has been around since the pandemic hit the world last year.

Therefore, the path that the government has been taking until now is simply unacceptable.

This also stands on the complete opposite side of Presidential Decree No. 39/2019 regarding One Data Indonesia, which emphasises the importance of data reliability and governance in transforming the current governance processes and administration to be more fact-based.

Apart from these two issues, the competing pride of government officials and agencies in providing tech-related solutions has also posed a notable risk toward a more synergistic government effort in stopping the pandemic.

Instead of offering an instant solution through the embedment of technology into the overall tracing capability, the existence of government-sponsored mobile applications, such as PeduliLindungi, e-HAC, JAKI and Pikobar, has only underscored the inefficiency of policy-making capacities as well as the inter-agency disconnectedness of the government at any level.

Furthermore, these two things have cost the government more than Rp 670 trillion (S$63 billion) in Covid-19 mitigation funds without having achieved significant milestones, such as flattening the curve of virus transmission, for the past year and a half.

From these three imminent issues the government has been struggling with, one could learn that the presence of physical artefacts – or hardware – such as big data, mobile applications and tech ecosystems would only be meaningful when coupled with more fact-based mindsets adopted by government officials in making more politically agnostic policies.

Given this situation, the only way to curb the virus is to curb the transmission of herd stupidity within Indonesian society. Henceforth, this could be initiated by stopping this vicious cycle within the government through several steps.

First, the government must pay more attention to the available data and experts’ opinions, including epidemiologists, disaster management agencies and data analysts, before making future policies. This is an integral part of producing meaningful and trust-able decisions.

Second, the government must be able to tone down its soaring organisational pride in order to obtain more productive inter-agency collaborations.

In the case of technology adoption for the pandemic response, this is achievable through the appointment of a ministry or government agency and championing tech products as the central point of command and reference in supporting the government’s main responsibility to test, trace and treat (3T).

It is better to have a fully functioning and scalable tracing application than to keep producing more mobile apps that no one uses.

Finally, these two steps shall be perfected by the solemnity of the government to put in place measurable and enforceable regulations that are not only strict to the common Indonesians but also to the people in power.

Learning from the Covid-19 response, unless the policymakers adopt these fact-based mindsets, they must revisit and re-calibrate Indonesia’s regional tech ambition in the future.

  • The writer is currently pursuing a master’s in public policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.

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