Covid-19 vaccination for House members' families triggers polemic

Source – February 27, 2021
Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) legislator Mardani Ali Sera getting vaccinated – February 26, 2021 (Tribune)

Nicholas Ryan Aditya, Jakarta – Yesterday, on Friday February 26, the public was surprised to hear the news that all of a sudden Covid-19 vaccinations were being conducted at the House of Representatives (DPR) complex in Senayan, Jakarta, without any public notification.

The public questioned the Covid-19 vaccination program for the people's representatives because as is known, the DPR is currently in a recess period, meaning its members have returned to their respective electoral districts (dapil).

News of the vaccinations for DPR members was confirmed by DPR Commission II member Mardani Ali Sera from the Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) faction.

He said that PKS legislators were scheduled to be vaccinated on Friday. "Yes, today, me at 10 am at the DPR", said Sera when sought for confirmation by on Friday.

Unlike the government's vaccination programs for other groups, the DPR vaccinations, which give the impression of being rushed, have created a polemic.

Not long after however, the DPR also made a clarification on the matter.

Other reports also circulated following the news of the vaccinations, including news that immediate family members of DPR members would also be vaccinated.

This was confirmed by DPR Commission I member Abdul Kadir Karding from the National Awakening Party (PKB) who said that his family members were vaccinated on Thursday February 25.

"Yesterday, on Thursday, me and my wife and children did indeed take part in the vaccination program carried out by friends from the Health Ministry", said Karding when contacted by on Friday.

Karding said that in the invitation that he received from the PKB parliamentary faction as well as the DPR's secretariat general it said that he and his immediate family members were eligible for the vaccine.

"So yesterday we got an invitation from the general secretariat and through the faction that we would get the vaccine, it said me, along with my wife and my children would be vaccinated", he explained.

House speaker denies secrecy

DPR Deputy Speaker Sufmi Dasco Ahmad from the Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) meanwhile denied that the vaccinations for the DPR members and their families were done secretly saying it was done transparently and in an open area.

He said that the DPR received the schedule for the vaccinations from the Health Ministry (Kemenkes).

"There was nothing secret, people in the regions were also vaccinated openly, right, to maintain health protocols. We got the allocation from the Kemenkes, the DPR, and family members who are registered with the DPR General Secretariat. The allocation was from the Kemenkes", said Ahmad when interviewed in a video received by on Friday.

Initially he said, the DPR received a letter from the Health Ministry on the schedule for the Covid-19 vaccinations. Ahmad said that the DPR still took part in the vaccination even though they were in recess.

"Because we were in recess, the secretariat general gave the information to the [political party] factions. The factions then gave the information to their members. So it's not true to say the vaccinations were done in secret. There was nothing that was covered up", he explained.

Protests over the policy of vaccinating lawmakers' families have also come from within the DPR itself.

United Development Party (PPP) faction Secretary Achmad Baidowi has asked the DPR's Secretariat General to explain the policy of allocating vaccines to family members.

Baidowi revealed that his own family did not take part in the vaccinations at the DPR because they are not included in the category of those who have to be vaccinated immediately.

"My family isn't included in the category of those who must be vaccinated immediately. It would indeed be best if the secretariat general explain this publically", said Baidowi when contacted on Friday.

Baidowi himself admitted to not taking part in the vaccination because he is a Covid-19 survivor and chose to prioritise people who need the vaccine more.

He added that there were also other PPP faction members who did not take part in the vaccination at the DPR because they were in the electoral districts during the recess period.

The parliamentary watchdog Forum of Concerned Citizens for Indonesia's Parliament (Formappi) has criticised the inclusion of legislator's family members.

Formappi researcher Lucius Karus said this shows the exclusiveness of DPR members, namely that they are able to get the vaccine early.

"The inclusion of DPR family members also shows the exclusiveness of DPR members who appear to always want to be seen as different from everybody else", said Karus when contacted by on Friday.

He added that the inclusion of family members will almost certainly attract public attention.

This is because the people who should actually be prioritised for vaccinations are public servants, namely those who work to provide services and interact directly with the public.

"Clearly family members of DPR members are not public servants", he explained.

A different response meanwhile came from Elina Ciptadi, the co-founder of the volunteer group Kawal Covid-19 (Guard against Covid-19), who is asking the government to focus on vaccinating priority groups.

According to Ciptadi, family members of legislators are not included in the priority groups determined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"DPR family members are not public servants, they shouldn't be put ahead of the aged or public servants", said Ciptadi when contacted by on Friday.

Furthermore, Ciptadi said that vaccinating legislator's family members will set a bad example for the public.

"This sets a bad example for the public that it doesn't matter if non-priority people jump the queue", he explained.

Don't turn it into a polemic

DPR Secretary General Indra Iskandar from President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has spoken up over the issue asking that the inclusion of legislator's family members not be turned into a polemic.

This is because, according to Iskandar, all Indonesian citizens are entitled to and will be vaccinated, and this has been made compulsory by the government.

"So, don't look at it from the perspective of family (members) being vaccinated or not. But all citizens are basically obliged to get vaccinated. In one household, if one person is given the vaccine but the others not, that of course is risky", said Iskandar at the parliamentary complex on Friday as quoted by the Antara state news agency.

He explained that the inclusion of legislator's family members was because the data used by the DPR's Secretariat General for the vaccination program was family data.

"There were also those among us whose [data] was taken from Jasindo [the state-owned insurance company]. It was an official listing, and that's what we held", he added.

Iskandar said that many DPR members and support staff have been infected with Covid-19 and six DPR members have even died of the disease.

According to Iskandar meanwhile the vaccination program at the DPR will involve almost 12,000 people including DPR members, legislator's family members, state civil servants, expert staff, internal security personnel, cleaning staff, gardeners and drivers.

"All of them, if it's the House members and families, based on the population data at Jasindo, the official data, then the DPR members' families are around 2,600", said Iskandar.

[Translated by James Balowski. Abridged slightly for length. The original title of the article was "Vaksinasi Covid-19 bagi Anggota Keluarga DPR yang Jadi Polemik...".]