The crisis will end. They all do. And usually precipitate another because our ability to recover is pretty much equal to our ability to plan, says Alistair Speirs, who has seen his weary way through many crises in Indonesia: from riots to earthquakes, from financial collapses to tsunamis. And if we are truly honest and compare our recovery time and our recovery programs to our neighbours in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, we will see we are very much slower than they are. Why is this and what can be done this time to make recovery quicker and easier – and more permanent!
In 1907, Baden-Powell, an English soldier, devised the Scout motto: Be Prepared. He published it in Scouting for Boys in 1908. (Two years later, in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was founded.)
In Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell wrote that to Be Prepared means “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.” Upon hearing the Scout motto, someone asked Baden-Powell the inevitable follow-up question,
“Prepared for what?”
“Why, for any old thing,” he replied.
More than a century later, preparedness is still a cornerstone of Scouting. Through its fun, values-based program, Scouting prepares young people for life.
You can also listen to the audio version of this article from our brand new NOW! Jakarta Podcast.
In the late 1900s, Baden-Powell wanted young people equipped to react quickly to an emergency. The Great War loomed, and soon the Boy Scouts — not a military organisation but a service-minded one — would be called upon to play their part.
His idea was that Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and strong leaders and to bring joy to other people. He wanted each Scout to be ready in mind and body and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges await him.
Isn’t that what we need now? We need to be prepared. What for? Well as Baden–Powell said ”any old thing” and, let me say it, every new thing.
Failing to prepare, as we all know, is preparing to fail, and as an ex-member of the insurance business, I know only too well how very unprepared people are for disasters and emergencies. The horror of the ‘it will never happen to me’ mentality keeps insurers awake at night, as sprinklers are never checked and safety procedures and regular maintenance, even of passenger lifts, and more astonishingly, planes, buses and trains are often neglected.
Of course, the actual frequency of occurrence is quite minimal, which is what lulls people into their state of delusion and false security. Sometimes insurers long for a good fire to wake everyone up (as long as no one is hurt of course) But here in Indonesia we really have no reason for complacency, we are under constant attack, from natural and man-made disasters, and every time we have to start again, from the bottom, to build ourselves up.
Do you remember the earthquake that devastated Yogyakarta in 2006 killing more than 5,000 people? One year after that I was asked to revisit the tourism industry and find out how they were recovering. In a meeting of over 50 industry leaders I asked them to show me their updated Crisis Management Plans. Not one had done it. I was not nice to them. They were letting their staff, their guests and their community down. They were unprepared. Again!
You all of course remember the Bali Bombings which devastated the tourism industry in 2002. The Government promised a dedicated recovery fund to get the island back on its feet, which was desperately needed with hotels, restaurants and shops empty for 3 to 4 months, and families literally living hand-to-mouth. It took 7 months to get the fund and the recovery program in place. Then it took 6 months to set up a proper PR communications programme to try to get the world to “come back to Bali“. It worked, but it could have saved thousands of jobs and months of anguish if it had been done immediately or better still – prepared in advance, in anticipation, of the many things that can and do go wrong.
Fast forward to 2018 when Mt. Agung started blowing its top. The tourist markets reacted with alarm and cancellations started flooding in. What was needed was an immediate, reasoned, professional response from the PR Department to reassure everyone and preserve the inbound tourists and thereby Balinese jobs. But no, there was no PR effort—that had been disbanded when it was no longer needed. Along with maintenance, crisis management and the whole concept of forward planning I guess.
Here in Jakarta we had floods this year—again—why? According to the official spokesperson, it was because of unusually heavy rain. Well I could have told you that! But I would have been fired from my insurance job for not anticipating that and advising my clients to look at the 100 year worst case scenario, add 50% to it and make the infrastructure suitable to handle that level. People lost their homes and some their lives because there was no preparation. Baden–Powell would have been furious.
So here we are today, trying to cope with a brand new threat, wait a minute, it’s not brand new, it’s SARS and MERS and Bird Flu revisited! What did we do then, anyone remember? Where is the SARS plan? Oh? Filed with the PR and maintenance programs. Where is post-SARS plan? There wasn’t one? Then that’s what we will do again.
But it should not be. We need to be ready to take action to minimise human suffering and economic consequences. We need new ideas, new solutions, new initiatives, however crazy, to get the country back working, and giving money to local governments to disburse at their pleasure is not the way. (Ask the people of North Lombok who are still waiting for their recovery programme to be completed two years after the disaster).
Here are a few, I hope completely different ideas that I have come up with that try to attack at least two challenges at once so we have both short and long term solutions.
- Let’s get teams of unemployed trained and equipped to install solar panels in all homes across the nation, to provide electricity and hot water. This will provide jobs in the factories (must be made in Indonesia) and for the installers. It will then reduce the need for coal fired power stations, help clear the air pollution and reduce people’s energy costs. Actually a triple win. All financed by innovative banking credits which match the power cost savings.
- While that is happening we can also install thermal insulation in all buildings across Indonesia with newly created thermal panels made from coconut husks which are discarded in their millions every day. These coconut husks are usually burnt causing air pollution and are the cause of some of the forest and peat fires. Creating the panels will give income to the famers and the manufacturers, the installers, save money for the offices and houses where they are installed, reduce power needs and prevent fires and air pollution.
- Most people can’t afford to have household help any more, but by increasing this sector we can absorb millions of low skilled workers, who automatically are also housed and fed, and who free up more skilled and educated people to work in tech companies, leisure and commerce. How? Make their salaries 100% tax deductible. This is the same as the government supporting them but without the bureaucracy and administration. You employ one helper, you deduct all their salary against your personal tax. No admin, no hassle, everyone wins.
For more ideas you will have to pay…! But you see the idea, we need to prepare for post Covid-19 with new ideas to help industry, employment and the environment. If we don’t start now we will be back in 2002 waiting for months for the cavalry to arrive!
Stay well, all!