The Indonesian government drew criticism for failing to disburse timely incentives to medical workers stationed at Covid-19 frontlines after a nurse was allegedly removed from her position as punishment for publicly raising the issue.
Medical workers, including those recruited as volunteers, who meet certain government criteria are promised financial incentives that vary according to their roles. Nurses can earn up to 7.5 million rupiah ($530) per month and doctors up to 10 million rupiah.
But data from the health ministry has revealed that tens of thousands of medical workers have yet to receive their monthly incentives for late 2020 to April this year.
"We need time to disburse the funds because a lot of medical workers are involved and we need to open new bank accounts for them," the acting head of the ministry's human resource management and development, Kirana Pritasari, told a virtual press briefing on May 11.
A recently issued ministerial regulation requires incentives to be directly disbursed to individual bank accounts instead of to the workers' health facilities. However, Kirana said some medical workers had yet to receive their new accounts at state-owned banks that had partnered with the ministry.
The issue drew further outcry after a nurse working at the national Covid-19 hospital, Wisma Atlet in Central Jakarta, sought assistance from civil groups.
The nurse, along with a doctor who does not work at the hospital, revealed last week that they had received reports from 1,500 nurses, many at Wisma Atlet, who had yet to receive their November and December incentives last year.
Some 400 other nurses have not received their January incentives and 1,500 have yet to be compensated for work done between February and March, according to the nurse and the doctor, who named themselves the Indonesian Medical Workers Network.
Their main concern is that medical personnel working at makeshift hospitals commonly rely on these incentives as their sole income as they cannot work elsewhere, while their meals and accommodation are paid for by the government.
Kirana revealed that the finance ministry has approved the disbursement of about 202 billion rupiah in new incentives this year, targeting 31,000 workers serving Covid-19 patients nationwide, out of the total of 1.04 trillion rupiah in newly proposed incentives for about 168,000 workers.
These use a different scheme from those that should have been paid last year. Last year’s funds allocated for overdue payments must be first audited by the Development Finance Comptroller (BPKP) before they can be used this year.
Auditing since April, the agency still has 382 billion rupiah left to examine from the 1.48 trillion, targeting some 190,000 workers. Iwan Taufiq Purwanto, a deputy at the BPKP, has attributed the unfinished review to insufficient supporting documents from health facilities.
Even after the BPKP's audit, the funds must be further approved by the finance ministry to be transferred to medical workers. Only 790 billion rupiah has been approved so far, targeting some 124,000 workers.
"It must be further investigated whether the reasons are indeed administrative or certain parties are aiming to [pocket] the funds," Kurniawan Ramadhana of the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) told a separate press briefing.
He urged the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which is currently embroiled in various scandals, to strictly monitor the disbursement of incentives to avoid another graft case using Covid-19 funds, referring to the social aid corruption case implicating former social affairs minister Juliari Batubara.
The LaporCOVID-19 (Report Covid-19) community said that aside from the late disbursement of incentives, it has also received reports of workers having their incentives cut by health facilities.
Public defender Nelson Simamora at Jakarta Legal Aid (LBH Jakarta) also lambasted what he described as intimidation tactics used by authorities on the nurse who spoke up about the issue.
Nelson, who is assisting the nurse, said she had been questioned by the police at the hospital and then forced by the facility to sign a statement promising she would not raise the issue again as her work card had also been confiscated. The nurse was then suddenly let go by the Wisma Atlet hospital, he said.
The nurse said she regretted the government's anti-criticism stance, highlighting the need to improve medical workers' welfare amid the Covid-19 pandemic and hear their grievances.
"Even though we're volunteers, our rights as medical workers are guaranteed by the Constitution, the law and health ministry regulations," she said.
Wisma Atlet has deployed over 6,900 workers since March last year. Kirana of the health ministry said the December incentives for some 1,600 workers had been disbursed on May 6 and May 10, and the January incentives for 2,090 workers had been disbursed last month.
Meanwhile, incentives for the rest of the months this year, targeting around 8,000 recipients, are being processed and expected to arrive in the health workers’ bank accounts before Idul Fitri holiday, she said.
Wisma Atlet hospital field commander Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Arifin has dismissed allegations of intimidation, saying that every month, volunteers and medical workers were subject to review by the ethics committee on whether their services would be extended.
He said there was no such organisation as the Indonesian Medical Workers Network and the nurse had violated rules by creating her own organisation and speaking to the media without informing him.
"Since the start, the Wisma Atlet hospital has always recruited [health workers] who come voluntarily for humanitarian purposes, not like factory workers … Incentives are rewarded by the government, not like some wage for factory workers," he said.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK