Indonesia Explores Relocating Capital

Arie Firdaus
Jakarta
2017-07-14
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170711_ID_Capital_1000.jpg Commuters face traffic congestion on Gatot Subroto Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Jakarta, July 11, 2017.
Arie Firdaus/BenarNews

Palangkaraya, by any standards, is not well-known outside Indonesia.

But the city on the island of Borneo is quickly becoming a newsmaker after experts started debating the concept of relocating the nation’s capital following a government official’s statement that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered a feasibility study.

Bambang Brodjonegoro, chief of the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), told journalists in Jakarta on Tuesday that he had been instructed by the president to conduct a study regarding moving the capital from Jakarta.

Brodjonegoro declined to elaborate but said the president cited a number of reasons for considering the move, including issues related to infrastructure, flooding and congestion.

As the controversy about the possible move swirled in Jakarta, Widodo skirted issuing a direct statement confirming his plans.

“I will explain it when the time comes,” the Jakarta-based Republika website quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

But on Thursday Widodo broke his silence by issuing a Twitter message.

“Discourses about the relocation of the state capital are now still in the analysis phase,” Widodo said. “Deep calculations are necessary so as to guarantee that the relocation will be really beneficial.”

While officials have not confirmed the location of the possible new political and administrative hub, government sources told BenarNews that Palangkaraya, the capital city of Central Kalimantan province in Borneo, would be the top candidate.

“None has confirmed Palangkaraya. There are some candidates,” Brodjonegoro told BenarNews. “Right now our team still analyses the criteria of the area and the land availability.”

He said the feasibility study, including budget estimates, is targeted for completion by the end of this year.

Palangkaraya has a population of about 240,000, according to a 2014 census.

It is in Kalimantan, the largest island in Indonesia and since the 1950s government officials have been eyeing it as a frontrunner to become Indonesia’s future capital, a potential replacement to the congested and flood-prone Jakarta, home to about 30 million people.

Former President Sukarno started the initiative to sever links with Indonesia’s colonial past by potentially moving the capital out of Jakarta, which was known as Batavia during Dutch rule.

Moving toward debate

But even at the early stage of conducting feasibility studies, the plan has been flooded with opponents.

Nirwono Joga, an observer of city planning with the Jakarta-based Trisakti University, said the relocation would be unnecessary.

“It needs a lot of money,” he told BenarNews.

“Even if the government really has a big budget, it is better to use it for the improvement of Jakarta and the development of other areas to support Jakarta,” he said.

Instead of relocating the capital, Joga suggested the government spread out the administrative and business burden borne by Jakarta.

For example, he said, Bandung in West Java can be converted into a technology center, Yogyakarta, can become the center of arts and culture and Surabaya can be transformed into a maritime hub.

“That makes more sense,” Joga said.

But other analysts offered diverging opinions.

“Kalimantan is a right place,” said Krishna Nur Pribadi, a city planning analyst from Bandung Institute of Technology.

During a phone interview with BenarNews, Nur Pribadi mentioned the vastness of land available in the island.

With an area of 544,140 sq km (210,093 sq miles) of Indonesia’s 699,450 square-mile land, Kalimantan is populated by only 14 million people.

He cautioned that Palangkaraya has only 50 sq km developed land of its total area of 2,400 sq km.

He said the government must ensure the relocation would not crash the central government’s annual budget, which is expected to encounter a shortfall of about $25 billion this year.

Fadli Zon, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, opposes the relocation idea, according to Kompas.com.

“Many infrastructure projects are in risk of being unfinished because of financial difficulties, so concentrate on that first, no need to think about relocating the capital,” he said.

But Brodjonegoro said his agency would approach the private sector if the state budget could not support the project.

“We are studying it intensively,” he said. “The burden for Jakarta is already too heavy, not only as a state’s capital, but also as the center of industry and business services.”

The 2016 Jakarta Transportation Board estimated $11.2 billion per year is lost because of traffic congestion in Jakarta.

Confusion

Talk about possible relocation also delivered confusion among Jakarta residents.

“So how would my family be?” 31-year-old Kiki Sofia told BenarNews on Tuesday.

Sofia, a Ministry of Public Works employee in South Jakarta, owns a house in the suburb of Bekasi, while her husband works for a private company in the capital.

“If my office moves, I also have to move, right?” she said.

Boy Eka, 31, another government worker, also expressed concern.

“I don’t know. Let’s see,” he said.

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