[JAKARTA] Indonesia's president publicly rebuked one of his cabinet ministers on Friday for a clampdown on ride-hailing services like Uber and Go-Jek, which triggered outrage on social media in a country where public transport options are limited.
Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan's restriction, which sent shares of taxi companies soaring, will be seen as another embarrassment for President Joko Widodo, who has struggled to keep his cabinet members in line since he took office last year.
Just months ago he invited dozens of motorbike drivers employed by Go-Jek, whose lime-green colours are now ubiquitous in the traffic-clogged streets of Jakarta, to lunch at his palace. "Don't let the people be burdened because of regulations," Jokowi said on his official Twitter account, adding that regulations "need to be managed".
He said he would "immediately" summon Jonan for talks.
The Kompas newspaper reported on its website late on Thursday that Jonan's ministry had banned the use of personal vehicles for public transport.
The minister then rowed back on Friday, saying in a statement that online ride-hailing services could continue to operate until a solution to meet public transport needs is found. He gave no further details.
Jonan is no stranger to controversy. This year he introduced a "positive equity rule" for airlines that compelled carriers, including the Indonesia affiliate of AirAsia Bhd, to bulk up on equity.
Shares of Indonesian taxi operators PT Blue Bird Tbk and PT Express Transindo Utama Tbk surged on Friday after the reported ban on online rivals.
The attempt to cripple ride-hailing services provoked an online outcry: within hours #SaveGojek was the top trending topic on Twitter in Indonesia. "Thanks to President @Jokowi for his support to 200 thousand Go-Jek drivers and 8 million of our application users," Go-Jek founder Nadiem Makarim said on Twitter.
As the furore grew, Transport Ministry spokesman J. A. Barata said in a hastily arranged briefing the government would be a laughing stock if it was legal for dangerous vehicles to carry the public. "People will laugh at us," he said.
GrabTaxi, another online rides service, said it respects regulations and is taking steps to improve safety for passengers, but is in any case not even a transport operator. "GrabCar and GrabBike are technology partners to licensed transportation companies, and do not own any vehicles nor is a transport operator," a spokeswoman said in an email.