Indonesia’s transportation minister Ignasius Jonan caused a kerfuffle when he took it upon himself to declare motorcycle ride-apps like Go-Jek and GrabBike illegal.
The ministry publicized its viewpoint at a press conference on Thursday. Jonan’s definitive stance was reiterated by national and international media outlets.
Comments exploded on social media. If Go-Jek is illegal, why did president Joko Widodo and tech minister Rudiantara invite the startup along on the government’s official Silicon Valley trip?
And why did Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama say he would tolerate app-based services for two-wheelers, because motorcycle taxis were never a regulated form of transportation in the first place?
Jakarta’s governor had just last week helped define rules for ride-apps to operate in Jakarta. These rules are directed at car-based services like Uber and GrabTaxi. The collaborative formulation of a set of rules finally opened up a pathway for Uber to operate legally in Jakarta.
But apparently, at national level, minister Jonan hasn’t caught the wind of change. It’s unclear why he made such statements without first checking in with related ministries.
In the end, it took only one call from President Joko Widodo to change the transportation minister’s mind.
Jokowi said on Twitter that he believed “Ojek [motorcycle taxis] are needed by the Indonesian people. Regulations shouldn’t make it more complicated.”
Soon after, minister Jonan turned to the press again to take back what he said on Thursday, allowing two-wheel ride-apps to operate as before.
Even the spokesperson of GrabTaxi, the Malaysian company that operates a service similar to Go-Jek in Indonesia under the name GrabBike, scratched her head in disbelief over the minister’s flip-flopping behavior.
What’s becoming increasingly evident is that Indonesia’s government has massive difficulties keeping up with the pace of change brought about by digitization of services. And certainly, within the government, there are progressive and more conservative voices. A takeaway from this latest misunderstanding is that it’s better not to take government statements at face value, until there is a national level framework for how to interpret existing laws on transportation and accommodate technology-based networks. The Philippines is a huge step ahead of Indonesia in this regard – a model we could learn from.
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