Millions of Indonesians have been frustrated by the emergency public activity restrictions (PPKM Darurat), which have severely impacted their income. On the other hand, officials who have to enforce the mobility curbs have oftentimes lost patience when dealing with stubborn and aggravated motorists, while at the same time they are worried about their safety amid the menacing virus.
Such circumstances are prone to tension if not conflict in society. It is therefore imperative that law enforcers refrain from actions or words that could be construed as lacking sensitivity to people's misfortune. The public's support for the restriction policy will matter, as the government has no choice but to pull the brake now that the case count and death rate are alarmingly high.
In this context it came as no surprise when many people vented their anger when Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who is in charge of the PPKM Darurat in Java and Bali, used harsh words in responding to public's qualms about his statement that the government was getting the pandemic under control. Luhut challenged those critics to meet him directly and he would be more than willing to show evidence to prove the doubters wrong.
Given his military background, Luhut's combative reaction is not peculiar. To be fair, his responsibility to oversee the implementation of PPKM Darurat in Java and Bali, the country’s COVID-19 epicenters, is a daunting job that requires a Herculean effort.
Luhut suspected the criticisms were no less than attempts to politicize the pandemic for personal gains. He simply could not accept critics who deemed the government had not done enough to protect the people.
But in an about-face, a few days after the furor, Luhut reached out to the public, only to express his apology. "As the coordinator of the Java-Bali PPKM Darurat, from the bottom of my heart, I apologize to the entire Indonesian people if the way we implement PPKM in Java and Bali is less optimal," he read in a statement.
In a televised interview on Tuesday night, Luhut explained why he was so upset by the criticism, which came when he had cracked under pressure due to a spike in the number of infections and deaths thought to have been caused by the Delta variant. He compared the fight against COVID-19 with battles he used to be involved in. He often felt guilty for his fallen soldiers.
A few days later, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir followed in Luhut's footstep in offering mea culpa, although in a more subtle expression. Like Luhut, Erick admits his limitations.
Nevertheless, through his gesture Luhut, as well as Erick, has set a good example for other public officials in this patriarchal society, where the bosses always feel they can do no wrong and the fathers know best. Nothing is wrong with public officials confessing their imperfections, as Indonesia is known as a forgiving nation anyway – they won't go so far as demanding their resignation.
In the face of this terrifying crisis, rather than searching for each other's mistakes, it is better for us to work together and support each other in order to win the war on the virus.
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