Exclusive: Inside Indonesia’s vision for an inclusive digital recovery

By Shirley Tay

Interview with Johnny Plate, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Indonesia.

Indonesia’s ambition to escape the middle-income trap has become a herculean one. The pandemic and its ripple effects have sent Indonesia into its first economic downturn in two decades and pushed more than two million Indonesians into unemployment.

Technology will be crucial in helping Southeast Asia’s largest economy push forward in its goal to become a high-income country. The industry has remained a bright spot during the pandemic, growing by 10.58 per cent in 2020, says Johnny Plate, Minister of Communications and Information Technology (KOMINFO).

He envisions an ICT-driven economic recovery that will “connect the unconnected and leave no one behind.” GovInsider spoke to Plate to find out how he plans to achieve this vision.

Helping small businesses digitalise

Small businesses prop up 60 per cent of Indonesia’s economy, and account for 97 per cent of its domestic working population. When the pandemic hit, it was crucial for these businesses to pivot online.

Digitalising has helped small businesses “survive and stay resilient”, Plate says. The government has initiated a stimulus programme to help 3.7 million small businesses digitalise, adding to a total of 11 million digital small businesses in Indonesia.

But this number merely accounts for 18 per cent of the 64 million small businesses in the country, he adds. Indonesia aims to help 30 million small businesses digitalise, says Plate. The Ministry’s #1000StartupDigital programme, for instance, connects startups to mentors, investors and game developers through a series of workshops, bootcamps, and networking sessions.

This programme was conducted in 17 cities in the span of four months, he adds, and saw 166 startups reach the final incubation stage.

E-commerce platforms Lazada and Shopee have also provided financial aid and training to help small businesses move online, Tech in Asia reported.

Fighting vaccine-related fake news

Vaccinating Indonesians against Covid-19 is crucial to helping the country achieve herd immunity and emerge from the crisis. More than 44,000 Indonesians have died, and over 1.6 million have been infected as of 26 April.

But “many irresponsible parties” in Indonesia have tried to create fake news to diminish public trust in the vaccines, says Plate. Some include news of fake vaccines, and that President Joko Widodo had gotten seizures after his vaccination and died. KOMINFO’s data revealed there are about five fake news daily on Covid-19 and vaccination issues.

The Indonesian Ulema Council, its top Muslim clerical body, has already declared the vaccines to be permitted under Islam. About 65 per cent of Indonesians have expressed willingness to be vaccinated, according to a Ministry of Health survey conducted last November.

The government has worked to increase the level of public acceptance towards vaccines, Plate says. KOMINFO has created a 24/7 “cyber patrol” to identify fake news on Covid-19 vaccines and order platforms to take them down. The Ministry will then clarify these hoaxes with the Indonesian Medical Association in weekly podcasts, streamed live on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

KOMINFO has embarked on its National Digital Literacy Movement, Siberkreasi, to improve digital literacy and tackle hoaxes, leaks, or radical content. It aims to educate 12.4 million citizens by the end of this year.

The Ministry also partners other fact-checking organisations such as Mafindo, a partner of Siberkreasi, and Cek Fakta to boost the speed of identifying fake news and disseminating clarifications. Citizens can visit a website to fact-check fake news, Plate says.

KOMINFO is turning to creative means of educating the public. It has created a song Cek Dulu, roughly translated into ‘Check First’, with lyrics that remind citizens to check their facts first and prevent the spread of fake news.

Boosting connectivity in remote areas

With more transactions going online during the pandemic, the need for connectivity has increased. The number of internet users has increased by 14.6 per cent to 196 million people last year, according to a nationwide survey by the Indonesian Internet Providers Association.

But connectivity is still highly concentrated in Java, its most populous island. Indonesia is accelerating the extension of mobile broadband services in 12,548 unconnected villages, Plate says.

This will be financed through partnerships with telecom operators and the private sector. The operators will also provide 4G broadband in Indonesia’s 3,435 non-remote villages, he adds.

BAKTI, Indonesia’s Telecommunication and Information Accessibility Agency, will upgrade transceiver stations in 1,209 villages to handle 4G. It also aims to build stations in 4,200 villages this year, Plate says. “Through these projects, eventually all villages in Indonesia will have access to the 4G broadband network in 2022.”

Indonesia also plans to launch a satellite to provide high-speed internet access at the “nooks and edges” of the country. That will provide 150,000 public access points, and enable Indonesia to fully cover more than 500,000 identifiable public access points across the country, he adds.

5G will also be a priority for the country. It has recently updated a law on telecommunication and radio frequency, in anticipation of regulatory needs from the implementation and development of 5G networks. The update will also stimulate more investments and create more job opportunities, Plate says.

Training tech talents

As Indonesia pivots to a tech-driven economy, having skilled professionals is crucial.

KOMINFO’s Digital Talent Scholarship has been training fresh grads and professionals since 2018. It started with 1000 participants in the first year, and has since increased to 25,000 in 2019.

On top of receiving training on technical skills, scholarship recipients are also trained in soft skills, such as communication. Plate’s Ministry has helped 63 per cent of 2019’s alumni land a job in the industry in the span of 6 months after graduation after the programme. This number has been increasing, he adds.

This year, the Ministry has increased the number of participants to 100,000. It also plans to include a range of programmes on AI, big data analytics, machine learning, IoT, and digital marketing, and more.

KOMINFO also set up an annual competition IoT Makers Creation to challenge local tech talents to come up with innovative solutions to solve problems. Last year’s competition, for instance, saw winners create a mosque floor steriliser and smart ventilators.

While the pandemic has put a hurdle in Indonesia’s ambitions for growth, tech can help unlock the country’s massive potential. Fighting fake news and training businesses and talents will be crucial in this effort.

Image of Minister Plate by KOMINFO