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Indonesian president wants to control damage to new capital

Indonesian president wants to control damage to new capital
Indonesian president wants to control damage to new capital


Jakarta, Indonesia

Indonesia's president is rushing to reassure investors and bureaucrats about his new $32 billion capital in a malaria-prone region of Borneo, after the resignation of two officials overseeing the plan raised fresh doubts about its future .

President Joko Widodo's announcement that he will begin working next month from an office in Nusantara, a giant construction site more than 1,200 kilometers from today's capital Jakarta, is unlikely to allay fears about his plan of inheritance, analysts believe.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo speaks about the new capital project Nusantara, during Ecosperity Week in Singapore, June 7, 2023. PHOTO: Reuters/Edgar Su/file photo

“Investor confidence has fallen, I think. They were already in doubt and waiting, partly because of the unclear land status, partly because of the lack of transparency in the governance of the new capital,” said Yanuar Nugroho, former deputy chief of staff to the president . .

“The resignations make the situation worse. Instead of explaining what really happened, the government is trying to cover it up,” he said, describing the president as being in damage control mode.

Traveling to Nusantara just a day after the two respected technocrats in charge resigned without explanation, the president inaugurated the construction of schools and office complexes and promised that foreign investment would arrive.

But years after the president announced his signature project, intended to ease Jakarta's burden of traffic, pollution, sinking and overcrowding, no foreign funding has been committed.

A presidential spokesperson referred the question regarding doubts over Nusantara's future to previous President Widodo's comment that the project would continue as planned.

Jokowi, as the president is known, leaves office in October after serving a maximum of two terms, as his legacy project faces a host of problems, including land issues, water supply, threat of tropical diseases such as malaria and widespread reluctance among civil servants. to move.

An even bigger stumbling block could be President-elect Prabowo Subianto.

Prabowo won February's election on a promise of “continuity,” but the former commander has his own legacy plan: a $29 billion “free meals” program to combat stunting.

Privately, Prabowo has yet to discuss his move to Nusantara with his team, and while he has pledged to continue developing it, it is unlikely to happen at the same pace, told Reuters a politician with direct knowledge of the project.

A spokesperson for Prabowo did not immediately respond to request for comment, but Prabowo has said publicly that he is committed to moving forward with the project.

General view of the construction of the central government area of ​​Indonesia's new capital, known as Nusantara National Capital (IKN), in Sepaku, East Kalimantan province, Indonesia, March 8, 2023. PHOTO: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan/archive photo

Members of Prabowo's coalition also privately discussed their doubts about the state budget's ability to finance both the new capital and the nutrition program, another senior politician involved said.

“If resources become scarce, (Nusantara) might just become a back-burner issue,” said political analyst Kevin O'Rourke. “There is going to be strong competition for other spending items in the Prabowo administration.”

“A sacrifice”
Envisioned as a state-of-the-art green smart city with flying taxis, Indonesia's Nusantara is more technologically and logistically ambitious than the region's new administrative capitals such as Myanmar's Naypyidaw and Malaysia's Putrajaya.

Thousands of civil servants are expected to be sent to Nusantara from September, but some are reluctant to go there.

Of nearly a dozen officials interviewed by Reuters, only two wanted to move, while others said they would consider resigning or requesting a transfer if asked.

“There is nothing there, there are no health facilities, education, etc. said an official from the Ministry of Communications. “It is not a choice but a sacrifice. »

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The government ensured that basic facilities, including apartments, water, electricity and internet, were ready when officials arrived, said Danis Sumadilaga, head of the project's infrastructure working group. Nusantara.

“You have to understand that not all facilities will be available at an instant… We are going there for work, what kind of facilities do you want?” You can’t expect it to be like Jakarta,” he said in a recent interview.

Other key government buildings, including the presidential office, the state palace and some ministerial buildings, will be ready by August, when Indonesia celebrates its Independence Day.

Foreign investment was dampened due to the elections and associated risks, said Chris Wren, CEO of BritCham Indonesia, adding that interest was now picking up.

“There are interested parties as investors across a range of needs and opportunities in infrastructure, smart city technologies, utilities, education, and more. “, did he declare. However, the feeling remains that the pitch is far from perfect at this stage.

A participant films a video presentation of Indonesia's new capital Nusantara, during Ecosperity Week in Singapore, June 7, 2023. PHOTO: Reuters/Edgar su/File photo

Public health experts have also raised concerns about malaria, with East Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo where the new capital is located, home to the second-highest rate of mosquito-borne diseases in the country.

The government has stressed that the capital site is malaria-free, but transmission remains a risk due to undocumented workers illegally logging nearby forests, epidemiologists say.

Official data shows that the malaria rate in Balikpapan, the town closest to Nusantara, more than doubled between 2022 and 2023.

“If they are not careful, I suspect malaria cases will increase in the next six months or a year,” said Iqbal Elyazar, of the clinical research unit at Oxford University in Jakarta.

– Additional reporting by ANANDA TERESIA and GAYATRI SUROYO




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