Jakarta. The government has banned civil servants, soldiers and police officers, and employees of state-owned enterprises from going on the Idul Fitri exodus, or mudik, next month, effectively stopping more than four million people from leaving urban centers to return to their hometown – a disaster waiting to happen, experts say, during the coronavirus pandemic.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo meanwhile has steadfastly refused to put regions under lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19, fearing chaotic scenes such as the ones that happened in India and severe hits to the economy.
Instead, the government has opted for large-scale social restriction (PSBB) that still allows some essential activities to go on.
"There are people we can't ban from mudik because they've lost some or all of their income due to the PSBB," Jokowi said on Thursday.
"Also, there are people who take part in mudik every year because of tradition," he said.
Last year, 33 million Indonesians left big cities during mudik for small towns and villages around the country.
Experts have warned the exodus might push the pandemic into cataclysmic proportion in Indonesia, leading to a tsunami-level of deaths.
While the government is still refusing to stop the general public from making the trip, it had no qualm about exerting the ban among its apparatchiks.
"We've decided to ban civil servants, soldiers and police officers, and employees of state-owned enterprises from going on the Idul Fitri exodus," Jokowi said.
"We will evaluate the recommendation for the general public according to developments in the field. At the moment we are recommending people not to take the trip," the president said.
Later on Thursday, the Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry issued a regulation officially banning civil servants from mudik and taking a leave while the coronavirus outbreak continues in Indonesia.
Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said on Friday civil servants caught violating the ban would risk having their salary and promotion frozen for a year or being demoted.
"It would be considered a moderate violation," Tjahjo said.
If a civil servant must leave their area of duty due to an emergency, a permission from their superior is required.
The same principle also applies to civil servants' leave. Permissions will only be given for maternity leave, sick leave and leave due to important reasons, such as an illness or death in the family.
Ulema Council's Intervention
To force more people to cancel their mudik trip, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil has requested the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to step in and declare a haram (forbidden) status for mudik.
Ridwan said a fatwa will help reinforce the appeal from the government to cancel the trip.
"I hope MUI can issue a haram fatwa on mudik because, usually, people listen to ulemas more," Ridwan said after a teleconference with 27 MUI leaders in West Java on Thursday.
West Java's MUI leader Rahmat Syafei said he actually shares the governor's view. However, it's only MUI's central committee that holds the authority to issue a fatwa.
"I personally think the fatwa should be declared immediately to maximize its impact. However, the authority lies with the Central MUI, but we will try to communicate with them," Rahmat said.
West Java is the second hardest-hit region by Covid-19 after Jakarta. The most populous province in Indonesia now has 388 confirmed cases and 40 deaths.