Indonesian civil servants rush to hold meetings in hotels even as Covid-19 spikes

The hotels are located in areas which have less strict social distancing measures than the capital.
The hotels are located in areas which have less strict social distancing measures than the capital.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BANTEN - Hotels just outside Jakarta are doing brisk business, with their meeting rooms mostly booked for the past few months by civil servants, who incidentally are flouting government regulations on social distancing.

The training sessions, small group discussions and large round-table meetings are being held as government departments rush to spend their budgets for the year, afraid that if they fail to do so, their allocations in future would be cut, as is normal practice.

Five hotels in Bogor (West Java province), Serpong (Banten province) and Tangerang contacted on Friday said they were unable to accommodate any large group bookings until later this month.

"If we don't spend our budget, our allocation in later years would be cut by the finance ministry. The reason why it's Bogor, Tangerang or Bandung is that so everyone gets an out-of-town per diem," a civil servant participating in a workshop told The Straits Times.

"It's worrying because many of the meetings are in small rooms."

The hotels are located in areas which have less strict social distancing measures than the capital.

An electronic screen at the lobby desk of Santika Premiere ICE Hotel in Serpong on Friday showed nine hosts for its meeting rooms - all of which were either government ministries or agencies, including the national development planning agency, the education, culture and the tourism, creative economy ministries.

An information sign for a room occupied by the education and culture ministry indicated the agenda for the meeting. It read: "An evaluation meeting on the exhibition by Semarang sculpture artists at the national gallery."

Groups of two to three civil servants could be seen huddling at the end of a round-table in the meeting room with the distance between them only about 20cm, far short of the 2m recommended. All were wearing masks, however.

At the Novotel Tangerang, the marketing communications directorate at the tourism, creative economy ministry used a ballroom to discuss, among other things, work norms and procedures.

"We do wear a mask and some also put on a face shield. But we are often in a packed meeting room. There is always an option to hold meetings outdoors, but most of us are spoiled and we prefer the air-con room," the civil servant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told ST.

Many of the hotels offer an option of erecting a tent for a gathering outdoors, which University of Indonesia epidemiologist Pandu Riono told ST posed less risk for transmitting the coronavirus.

“We remind all members of the public to always follow health protocols… not only always wear a mask… but also keep distance and do not congregate,” national Covid-19 taskforce spokesman Prof Wiku Adisasmito told ST. “Provincial and city governments, and the law enforcement officers must always keep watch and uphold discipline.”

Indonesia is struggling to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, nine months after it hit the country. Records are being set almost daily for infections as the disease spreads throughout the vast archipelago, the world's fourth-most populous country with 270 million people. The country remains the worst hit in South-east Asia with the number of confirmed cases at 563,680 as of Friday and 17,479 deaths.