Muhammad Maulana Iberahim
Master of Arts in Asia-Pacific, Thammasat Institute of Area Studies,
While South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam have been praised by many due to their governments’ responsive action in handling the spread of COVID-19 (Breen, 2020; Chau, Gregorio, & Nixon, 2020; Gan & Lendon, 2020), the mainstream media has paid relatively little attention to what the Thai government has done.
In May 2020, South Korea, as one of the successful countries in dealing with this pandemic, has expressed appreciation toward Thailand through its Ambassador f the Thai government’s effectiveness in coping with the outbreak and flattening the curve (Wangsri, 2020).
In Indonesia, in contrast, Achmad Yurianto, the spokesperson for COVID-19-related issues, has been awarded Public Relations of the Year by Indonesia Corporate Branding PR Award 2020. Although this was not intended as a celebration, but rather to appreciate his hard work, still, the recognition from outsiders, especially from other countries which have successfully coped with the outbreak, would be more noteworthy.
In Thailand, almost 20 million people have registered for government financial aid. This program intends to help people who are severely affected by the outbreak, specifically those who lost their jobs, who got suspended from work, and whose businesses have been closed on government orders. This program was arguably effective despite its challenges. As of early May, it was recorded that 13.4 million people have passed the qualification screening and are about to receive a subsidy of 5,000 baht/month. Another scheme initiated by the Thai government is also intended to give financial aid to 10 million farmers (Languepin, 2020).
The pre-employment (Prakerja) program launched by the Indonesian government in early May has received criticism (Rahman, 2020b; Virgil, Selo, & Angdreas, 2020). The critics against the preemployment program emphasized that the scheme does not align with the priority during the crisis. These criticisms also underline that people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic should be given direct cash assistance instead of online classes and skills training which could be easily found freely in other learning platforms. Besides, another criticism has pointed out the conflict of interest of the Special Presidential Staff, Belva, who is also the CEO of education technology startup ‘Ruangguru’ which was appointed as one of the platforms for the pre-employment program, resulting in his resignation from the position (Oktavianti, 2020; Primayogha, Easter, Juliantari, Zabar, & Alamsyah, 2020).
In a similar manner, the Indonesian government has launched social aid disbursement “Direct-Cash-Assistance” (Bantuan Langsung Tunai) amidst the COVID-19 crisis. However, this program has been criticized due to its data inaccuracy in distributing the aid to the intended beneficiaries (Gorbiano, 2020a). The government’s unpreparedness also exposes the bad governance due to lack of reliable data for targeted recipients, as well as lack of coordination between regional and central governments (Gorbiano, 2020b).
It is not only social and financial aid given by the Thai government, but also in a newer case, the authorities have launched a new user-driven app to facilitate tracking as the next measure to ease the lockdown has taken place. Everyone who wants to enter any public place is obliged to scan the QR code. This breakthrough innovation has effectively controlled the spread of the virus although some argue that it might lead to a data breach. As of May 28, no new locally-contracted cases have been found in 65 provinces in the last month (Praphornkul, 2020), although imported cases still can be found from people who return from abroad. However, the privacy issue is one of the human rights concerns as the app tracks the users. The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the Digital Economy and Society Ministry asserted that the data will be strictly used only for disease-control purposes.
Indonesia’s aim for ‘new normal’ has been assessed as a premature move, given the fact that the curve has not been flattened down and instead there has been an increase in the number of infections every day (Fachriansyah, 2020). Harmonious data and public accountability are necessary to handle the situation seamlessly. Again, lack of coordination and distorted data have obliged many volunteers to play an important role in reporting the data (e.g., LaporCovid-19 or Report COVID-19 and KawalCovid19 or Guard COVID19). Activists have been criticizing the government because of its refusal to reveal the data just because the government did not want to create ‘social panic’ (Daraini, 2020; Rahman, 2020a).
However, learning the best practices from Thailand is necessary because Indonesia shares a similar geographical and demographic structure. Indonesia could learn something from Thailand particularly concerning technological innovation that can practically control and track the spread of viruses taking into account the biased data found in Indonesia. Of course, the counterargument will necessarily underscore the privacy issue. Nevertheless, during this unprecedented time, people should reduce their expectation of their privacy in public when visiting public places anyway – because public safety should be the top priority. On top of that, the regulation that protects data privacy should be immediately addressed.
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