Country focus |

Interview with British Ambassador H.E. Owen Jenkins

Country Focus | 5 June 2020


Picture of H.E. Owen Jenkins
H.E. Owen Jenkins, UK Ambassador to Indonesia. Photo by Raditya Fadilla/NOWJAKARTA

The UK holds nothing back in aiding the global struggle against the pandemic, while helping Indonesia directly at the same time. Owen Jenkins shared details with NOW! Jakarta.

What can Indonesia learn from UK's handling of the Covid-19 Crisis, or vice versa? The UK has one of the best health services in the world but has struggled to contain the spread of the virus. Whereas Indonesia's health services are still in development but seems to have suffered much less. What is your reading on this?

Top marks for a great question, Alistair. In this extraordinary pandemic, we can all learn from each other. No country has all the answers and I suspect we will need a panel of experts and start a multi-year research project to find the truth! The UK’s NHS and the Indonesian health system have both performed daily miracles in helping those most badly affected by the disease.

One of the impressive elements which are common to the UK’s and Indonesian responses has been our instinct that any solution must be a global one. No country can be safe alone. And that goes for all the key issues, from immediate handling of the disease to finding a vaccine and getting it to everyone who needs it. Thankfully we have some of the smartest minds in the world working on this huge range of questions: from Bill Gates to researchers at University of Oxford, academics at Indonesia’s best institutions and many more.

Have the UK been actively assisting Indonesia' in these tough times through aid or expertise? If so, please tell us more. 

The UK and Indonesia have regularly been consulting and comparing notes about how to deal with this epidemic, including through the WHO framework.

At a global level, the UK is leading work to fight back against COVID-19 through the WHO, G20, World Bank and more.

First, to find a vaccine. The UK is the biggest donor to the global fund to find a Vaccine, with GBP 250 million to CEPI’s global fund. This is part of GBP 764 million of UK aid money going to fight COVID-19 and save lives worldwide.

Second, to make the vaccine affordable & accessible for everyone, because no one is safe until everyone is safe. Viruses don’t care about borders. So, on top of the money mentioned above, the UK is giving GBP 1.65 billion to the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) over the next five years to help make sure that every person in the world can get the vaccines they need. We will be hosting the global GAVI summit on 4 June.

In Indonesia, we are re-orientating some of our programmes to help tackle COVID-19. We are working with local organisations to translate public health messages into local languages, print booklets, and distribute in local areas as well as online. We are collaborating with Unilever, UNICEF, Action Aid and Save the Children on a water, sanitation and hygiene project worth IDR 13.5 billion. Our partnership with the Planning Ministry will model the impact of COVID-19 on the low carbon development pathway in the Indonesian 5 Year Plan. More adapted programmes are on the way. We will work through this together.

There have been concerns that the very strict EU forestry export registrations, pioneered by UK are being sidelined as the crisis bites into administrative capacity. Is this correct? And if so, what is being done about it?

There were some indications that the strict legal requirements around timber exports might be relaxed as part of a package of economic measures to respond to Covid-19. If this had happened, it might have undermined confidence and impact on trade. We are very pleased that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry as well as the Ministry of Trade have confirmed that the planned change will not take place, and that SVLK remains intact. The UK has confidence in SVLK and is pleased that it will continue to cover all timber exports to all destinations on the same terms, providing assurance that timber exports comply with Indonesia’s strict legal requirements on social and environmental criteria, and on forest governance.

More generally on trade, Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto and Secretary of State Liz Truss agreed on a recent phone call that the UK and Indonesia will continue to work on a joint trade review which is looking at trade flows between our two countries and how to increase them.

How have British companies in Indonesia fared during this crisis? Are there any which have had to close? Was there an exodus of UK nationals?

Covid-19 cannot be defeated alone; we need a united, global response to the global pandemic. UK companies have been the second largest European investor in Indonesia in 2020 and are committed to supporting Indonesia through this pandemic.

Medical supplies

  • 18 British companies have either donated or provided funding for medical supplies, including PPE, hand sanitisers, masks, disinfectant and thermo guns, and to support Drive Thru Rapid Testing. The funds and in-kind donations have been worth over IDR 17.3 billion (approx. GBP 963,000).

  • Beneficiaries have included Covid-19 designated hospitals, first responders, central government, local government, Indonesian Lung Doctor’s Association, women’s welfare association, customers, staff and members of the public.

  • Donations have come from Aberdeen Standard, British School Jakarta, Edrington Singapore, GSK, PwC, BP Indonesia, Croda Indonesia, Essentra, Jakarta Land, Reed Panorama Exhibition, PZ Cussons, Diageo, Premier Oil, Rentokil, Mandarin Oriental, Prudential, Standard Chartered Bank, Unilever and HSBC.

Education materials

  • Five British companies have distributed premium education materials to those affected by school closures, including distance learning tools and free access to online courses.

  • Beneficiaries have included students, teachers and professionals, education authorities and public subscribers.

  • Donations have come from Cambridge Assessment English, Pearson Group, Really English, Mandarin Oriental and Standard Chartered Bank.

Professional services

  • Three UK companies have provided free professional services in the form of consultation and coaching to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and data analytics to provide new insights into – and practical applications to support the economic recovery.

  • Beneficiaries have included government bodies, healthcare organisations, businesses and members of the public.

  • Services have come from ASK Consulting, PT Arup Indonesia and Rolls Royce.


  • Five British firms have donated 200,000 packages of staple food, rice and ready-to-eat meals.

  • Beneficiaries have included staff and members of the public.

  • Donations have come from Mandarin Oriental, Premier Oil, Rentokil, Shell Indonesia and Unilever.

Income support

  • Four British companies have raised funds to support people facing a sudden loss of income due to coronavirus.

  • Beneficiaries have included staff and members of the public.

  • Donations have come from Diageo, British School Jakarta, Mandarin Oriental and Ginting & Reksodiputro Law Firm.

Handwashing & environmental hygiene programme

  • The UK government and one British firm will donate GBP 775,000 of funding and in-kind support to run programmes to tackle the spread of coronavirus, through increasing access to hygiene products; a mass public awareness campaign on the importance of handwashing; and a hygiene behaviour change programme.

  • Beneficiaries have included members of low income population in areas where there is little or no sanitation.

  • Donations have come from DFID and Unilever.

Most Brits who have made their long term home in Indonesia are staying. They often have family here, and know Indonesia well – so have support networks and knowledge that visitors mostly do not have.

Meanwhile, we have encouraged those Brits travelling in Indonesia to go home, and have helped around 7,500 British tourists to do so.

What do you think of the prospects for Indonesia "re-opening" as is being touted now? Isn't this too early? 

As in every country, Indonesia’s leaders have to look at a range of priorities and take really tough decisions with the information they have available. They have our full support in that really tricky task. I’m thankful it isn’t mine to call!

What will the trigger be for UK tourists to be able come back to Bali, one of their favourite destinations? 

The Global Tourism industry has really taken a big hit, which is a big shame, with many people impacted negatively. It is hard to know how long travel restrictions might last, or how willing people will be to travel even when they are able to, which will have a big impact on flight availability and cost. We’ll have to wait and see but I know that, once they can, Brits will be back in Bali!

What has happened to the various assistance programs that UK has been working on with the Indonesian government? Are they still underway? 

I have already outlined how we have adapted a number of our programmes to fight Covid-19. We are also already talking with our Indonesian partners about how the UK can support Indonesia’s economic recovery. This could include: 

  • Technical assistance on trade barriers, economic and regulatory reform—working with the Indonesian government and World Bank on improving the Indonesian business environment and with the UNDP on transparency.
  • Collaboration to support the Government’s work to improve transparency and reduce corruption—including helping them to put Government procurement processes online and reduce opportunities for corruption;
  • Supporting workers through new skills post Covid-19—including scoping options on how to accommodate increased demand for new skills from students / recently unemployed. 

We have a great friendship with Indonesia, and will continue to face up to our shared challenges together.

What about Indonesian students studying in UK, have they been repatriated? Or are they working/studying from home as are all UK citizens? 

All Indonesians studying in the UK have had their right to stay in the UK extended without penalty. Some have chosen to return to Indonesia to be with their families, many others have chosen to stay. Many Universities in the UK are being extremely creative about how to keep their incredibly high academic standards, while delivering their courses remotely and online.

How have you and the Embassy personnel fared during this time? Are you looking forward to a return to more normal times?

It’s as tough and strange for embassy staff as for everyone else. I think we are all looking forward to normal times! We all miss the friendliness of the office, I think—all the thousands of informal interactions each day: eye contact, sharing lunch, being together.

Since we can’t do all of that, we’ve made our All Staff Meetings weekly instead of monthly and meet in smaller groups more regularly than tat. We share everything from work successes, to tips for coping while working from home, to our favourite series to watch on TV. We are talking a lot about mental health, well-being and resilience too. This is a challenging time for us all, and social distancing means it is even more important we get good at reaching out to each other for help. As one colleague put it, “working from home has taught me that I don’t need to be in the same room to show empathy”.

What are the Embassy plans for the remainder of the year?

It’s not an easy time to predict or make big plans for the future. We expect we’ll be doing more of the same: encouraging and promoting a global response to COVID-19; more work with the Indonesian national and local governments about how we can support their efforts; and more support and advice for British Nationals still here. These are incredibly important tasks, and we are pleased to play our part.