Coronavirus: Indonesia

Anger as crematorium owners hike fees amid rising deaths

Operators cite higher costs including that of labour; police chief says matter being probed

A January photo of funeral workers moving a sealed coffin containing a coronavirus victim ahead of its cremation at Keputih crematorium in Surabaya, East Java. Crematoriums in Indonesia have been hiking their fees, citing higher costs such as paying
A January photo of funeral workers moving a sealed coffin containing a coronavirus victim ahead of its cremation at Keputih crematorium in Surabaya, East Java. Crematoriums in Indonesia have been hiking their fees, citing higher costs such as paying workers overtime.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

Residents of the Indonesian capital are facing skyrocketing cremation costs amid the coronavirus pandemic. A copy of an invoice, which has gone viral online, shows a crematorium in West Jakarta charging 80 million rupiah (S$7,400), or 10 times the normal rate, for one body.

Crematoriums have cited higher costs of firewood due to rising demand and rising labour costs as employees have to work overtime, often late into the evening, amid the rising death toll, Jakarta-based news portal tribunnews.com reported.

They have also cited additional costs related to the pandemic, including the need to buy personal protective equipment to avoid possible Covid-19 transmission.

Ms Ima Mahdiah, a member of the capital city's provincial Parliament, said she has discussed the issue with Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who promised to set up a temporary crematorium by Sunday, as part of a plan to help bring down the costs.

For decades, the Jakarta government has left cremation services to the private sector and residents have had to rely on companies in the city as well as its nearby satellite towns.

On July 19, one crematorium owner, Mr Muhammad Jusuf Hamka, accused his rivals of forming a cartel to keep prices high. He said he had instructed his staff to continue charging clients the normal 7 million rupiah rate.

"People of the Christian, Buddhist faiths, I am with you. I will help you. And those who cannot afford to pay - with recommendation letters from community leaders as proof - will get a free of charge service," said Mr Jusuf, who also owns the toll road company Citra Marga Nusaphala Persada.

"This cartel group is inhumane. They have extorted from our brothers and sisters, charging as high as 80 million rupiah. Let us all fight this cartel," he added.

Indonesia is the world's biggest Muslim-majority country and the faithful bury their dead.

Police have begun investigating, with chief detective Commissioner General Agus Andrianto saying he has deployed his personnel to look into the matter. He also appealed to those charged exorbitant fees to come forward to file police reports.

General Agus denounced crematorium operators as traitors for profiting from people who are already suffering from the pandemic.

Noted litigation lawyer Hotman Paris Hutapea, who was among those encouraging police to take action, took to Instagram yesterday to thank the authorities for the quick response.

"Imagine, your mother, son, husband, wife died… you are low on cash during this pandemic, but are forced to take out tens of millions of rupiah (for cremation)," said the lawyer.

The number of deaths in Indonesia hit 1,449 yesterday, another daily record. The daily average of Covid-19 deaths in the past week has been about seven-times the figure in the second week of June, when the government for the first time confirmed that the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus, first detected in India, was found in Indonesia.

The country is the worst hit in South-east Asia with the total number of coronavirus cases at 3.03 million and 79,032 deaths so far.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2021, with the headline 'Anger as crematorium owners hike fees amid rising deaths'. Subscribe