Jakarta – Thousands of public employees in Jakarta, or half of its civil servants, were told to work from home starting Monday in a two-month trial aimed at improving the city's air quality, a government notice said.
Jakarta and its surrounding cities form a megalopolis of about 30 million people, and its airborne concentration of the tiny particles known as PM 2.5 recently surpassed other heavily polluted cities such as Riyadh, Doha and Lahore.
Activists blame the high levels of toxic smog on clusters of factories and coal-fired power plants near the capital, but the government has dismissed such claims, arguing that Jakarta's recent worsening air pollution was mainly due to weather and traffic.
The official notice, a copy of which was seen by AFP, says that the work-from-home scheme was related to efforts to reduce traffic congestion in the city during the ASEAN summit next month as well as to "decrease air pollution levels in Jakarta".
It ordered 50 percent of civil servants employed by the Jakarta administration to work from home between August 21 and October 21, and said up to 75 percent of the capital's government workers would work from home during the ASEAN summit between September 4 and 7.
Jakarta employed around 50,000 civil servants as of July, according to the regional civil service agency.
Acting Jakarta governor Heru Budi Hartono told reporters on Sunday that local governments in satellite cities surrounding Jakarta were also considering similar work-from-home arrangements for civil servants, although for a shorter period.
The Jakarta government would monitor the policy's implementation, and could scrap it earlier than planned if it's deemed unsuccessful, he added.
"If it's effective, then I have to report to the Home Ministry," said Heru. "If before October 21, it was not effective, for example, the civil servants who work from home are not disciplined, I will revert (the policy)."
The trial scheme is one of several government measures aimed at improving Jakarta's air quality.
In an Instagram post last week, Coordinating Maritime and Investment Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said the focus of the government's emission control policies included zeroing in on the industrial and power-generation sectors.
"As an effort to control emissions, we will require industries to use 'scrubbers' and to cut coal-fired power plants. We will also implement an expansion and tightening of vehicle emission tests in the near term," Luhut said.
Vehicle emissions account for 44 percent of air pollution in Jakarta, followed by the energy industry with 31 percent and manufacturing with 10 percent, according to officials.
Spikes in PM2.5 levels in August were so bad that Jakarta topped Swiss company IQAir's live ranking of air pollution in major cities at least once a day for four days straight.