The politicisation of social aid, the face of an insensitive government

CNN Indonesia – April 29, 2020
Social aid packet at Cipinang Food Station with ‘Presidential Aid’ printed on sack – April 22, 2020 (Antara)

Jakarta – A photograph of Klaten Regent Sri Mulyani printed on a packet of social assistance (bansos) for those impacted upon by the corona virus (Covid-19) epidemic has attracted a polemic. The case has opened the public’s eyes to the politicisation of social assistance in the midst of the corona pandemic.

The incident began when a photograph of a packet of hand sanitizer with Mulyani’s face attached to it went viral on social media.

The posting was followed by a photograph of several packets of social assistance which also had pictures of the President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician on them. Rice, masks and writing books for students all marked with Mulyani’s face.

Netizens on Twitter were very critical with many uploading the images to the hashtag #BupatiKlatenMemalukan (Disgraceful Klaten Regent) which topped the trending topics on Monday April 27.

The politicisation of social assistance didn’t just happen in the Central Java regency of Klaten. The public was also critical of a letter by Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan which was slipped into social assistance for Jakarta residents.

Found in 1.2 million packets of basic commodities (sembako) which were distributed in the capital city was a message from Baswedan to Jakarta residents. In the letter, Baswedan writes that he hopes the social aid can lighten the burden for his residents. He also invited the public to come together in the face of the corona pandemic.

And this has not just been happening at the regional level. The politicisation of social assistance has also occurred nationally. The public has also questioned the issue of social assistance distributed by President Widodo named “President of the Republic of Indonesian Assistance”.

The name gives the impression that the assistance comes directly from Widodo. Yet the source of the funds for the social assistance is the national budget (APBN) which is taken from the ordinary people’s money.

KedaiKOPI Survey Institute Executive Director Kunto Adi Wibowo is of the view that the culture of the politicisation of social assistance has long existed in the world of politics.

In Indonesia the practice has been widespread since the administration of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) launched the direct cash assistance program (BLT).

Wibowo says that the politicisation of social assistance is a common campaign trick in politics. In Europe it is known by the term pork barreling (gentong babi).

 “The term is pork barreling, a barrel filled with pork meat in the past in Europe. So they give a supply of food to their constituents, especially several days before an election. The aim being to build favorability, a liking for them”, Wibowo told CNN Indonesia on Wednesday April 29.

Wibowo said that the trick can also be referred to as money politics and is similar to dawn attacks known as serangan fajar, when money or gifts are given to people at dawn on voting day. The difference, he said, is that pork barreling is part and parcel of the government’s authority to manage the social assistance budget.

The Padjadjaran University faculty of communication science lecturer said that this method is commonly used by incumbent candidates in the lead up to elections. Although it is not impossible for this to be done by regional heads and heads of state who are not competing in elections anymore.

“For example to maintain their approval rating, to maintain people’s support for their leadership, this can certainly happen”, said Wibowo.

Contacted separately, public policy analyst Trubus Rahadiansyah believes that the politicisation of social assistance conflicts with good governance because it negates transparency.

He is of the view that image building through social assistance is being done because the government is not being transparent as it gives the impression that the assistance is being given directly by a regional head or head of state.

Rahadiansyah is of the view that in the midst of this crisis it will not have a positive impact on the administration. In fact he believes that the maneuver will have a bad impact on policy makers.

“The impression that’s created is actually counter-productive where the public’s perception of their image drops. It signifies a lack of sensitivity about people’s situation, hurting the public’s feelings”, Rahadiansyah told CNN Indonesia on Wednesday.

Rahadiansyah suggests that public officials stop the practice. He warns that the ordinary people invest their trust in public officials so they are obliged to serve the people without prioritising improving their own image.

“The government should see it as charity, a gift, not for seeking a public platform, or image building, or whatever. Be responsible to the public”, he said. (dhf/pmg)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Politisasi Bansos Corona, Wajah Pemerintah yang Tak Peka”.]