Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced Monday that the country would move its capital from traffic-choked and crowded Jakarta to a location on Borneo, with planners setting a goal for relocating part of the national government there by 2024.
Moving the seat of government to East Kalimantan, a densely forested and thinly populated province in Indonesian Borneo, and building a new capital from the ground up will cost up to 466 trillion rupiah (U.S. $32.7 billion), Jokowi said.
The new administrative center will be built in an area that straddles the border between the regencies of Kutai Katanegara and North Penajam Paser in East Kalimantan province, Jokowi said, ending months of speculation about the site for a new capital.
“The results of our studies conclude that the most ideal location of the new capital is in part of North Penajam Paser Regency and part of Kutai Kartanegara Regency,” he said during a televised news conference at the presidential palace in Jakarta.
Jokowi’s government will pay for about a fifth of the project’s cost while the rest of its construction will be financed through public-private partnerships, the president said.
“As a big nation which has been independent for 74 years, Indonesia has not designed its own capital city [from the ground up],” Jokowi said. Back in the 16th century, Dutch colonizers developed Jakarta as a trading outpost.
In its plan to build a new capital, Jokowi’s government will pay for about a fifth of the project’s cost while the rest of its construction will be financed through public-private partnerships, the president said.
Jokowi’s announcement marked the first time that he named a specific site for the new capital after he revealed his capital relocation plan in April. The announcement on Monday ruled out Sumatra and Sulawesi as potential sites for a capital. Four months ago, the president said that locations on both islands were among those being considered for a future seat of government.
The chosen area in East Kalimantan is strategic because it is at the center of Indonesia and close to two major cities where there is infrastructure in place – Balikpapan and Samarinda – Jokowi said.
Jakarta, with a population of 10 million people – or 30 million including its satellite cities – was struggling to cope with its status as an administrative and commercial center, the president added.
“The burden on Java Island is also increasingly heavy, being home to 150 million people, or 54 percent of Indonesia’s population,” he said.
“We cannot let Jakarta and Java continue to bear the burdens of population density, traffic congestion, which has become so bad, and air pollution, as well as water problems that need urgent handling,” Jokowi said, adding that the city was in danger of sinking.
The risks of disasters such as flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions are minimal in the area, he added.
As much as 36 percent of Jakarta could be underwater by 2050 mainly because of mass extraction of groundwater, according to a study by the Bandung Institute of Technology.
About 630 million cubic meters of water (166.4 billion gallons) are pumped from the ground each year by high-rise by commercial establishments including hotels, shopping centers and apartment complexes as well as residents, according to the city government.
A bill on the new capital will be drafted soon while the proposal has been submitted to parliament for discussion, Jokowi said.
The government wants to start moving to a new capital by 2024, at the end of Jokowi’s second five-year term in office.
Bambang Brodjonegoro, the minister for National Development Planning, said construction could start at the end of 2020.
“By 2024 we can start gradual relocation, while Jakarta will still be pushed to be an international business and financial center,” he told the press conference.
Half of the 180,000 hectares (695 square miles) of land allocated for the new capital will be preserved as urban open green spaces, Bambang said.
“We promise that protected forests will be untouched and conservation forests will be rehabilitated,” he added.
Some environmental activists, however, have criticized the planned move, warning that building a new city in the middle of a forest could harm the environment, including endangered species like orangutan.
Critics: Indonesia must prioritize urgent problems
Bambang Haryo, a lawmaker from the opposition Gerindra party, meanwhile, questioned the need to build a new capital away from Java.
“People are facing urgent problems such as food and clean water. Our foodstuffs cost more than those in Saudi Arabia,” he told TVOne, a local news broadcaster.
“Only 60 percent of Jakarta residents have access to piped water, while in some other cities, only 30 percent. We should focus on those issues,” he added.
In the view of Nirwono Joga, an urban planning expert at Trisakti University, moving the capital is not urgent, especially at a time of economic uncertainty.
“Floods, traffic jams and urbanization are not an excuse to move the capital. It can take 20 years to create a fully functioning city from scratch,” he told BenarNews.
“It is better to distribute development funds to other cities to boost economic growth and create new economic centers outside Jakarta,” he said.
A civil servant, Rosalina, said she opposed to plan to relocate Indonesia’s capital to Borneo.
“It will need a lot of preparations, including infrastructure and other long-term needs,” she told BenarNews.
Moving at least 1 million civil servants to the new city will pose significant logistical challenges, she added.
Athanasius Trilasto Nugroho, a 28-year-old office worker, said moving the capital was a good idea because, in his opinion, Jakarta is too crowded.
“Traffic jams are stressing us out, so there’s no harm in the government relocating to relieve Jakarta’s burdens,” he told BenarNews.
“Maybe it will be difficult at first for many, because there aren’t too many malls there, but they will get used to it,” he said.