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Indonesian Leader Rebukes Utility Company after Widespread Blackouts

Ahmad Syamsudin
Jakarta
2019-08-05
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Motorists navigate through traffic during a power outage in Jakarta, Aug. 4, 2019.
Motorists navigate through traffic during a power outage in Jakarta, Aug. 4, 2019.
AP

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo castigated the state electricity company on Monday after blackouts hit a large part of Java island, including the capital Jakarta, for more than eight hours.

Power has been restored in most parts of Jakarta, West Java and Banten provinces after Sunday’s blackout plunged buildings across the capital into darkness. Some areas in the three provinces still had no power or suffered from sporadic outages on Monday, affecting tens of millions of people.

Jokowi visited the headquarters of the state-owned power company PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) and conveyed his disappointment to its board of directors.

“There must have been contingency or back-up plans. My question is: Why didn’t they work well and fast?” Jokowi asked the board, including acting chief executive Sripeni Inten Cahyani. She took over last week after the previous head, Sofyan Basyir, was charged with corruption and is facing trial.

“It should never happen again,” Jokowi said, appearing in a sour mood.

The president said a similar blackout hit Java and Bali islands in 2002 and it should have served as a lesson.

“We know, not only this can damage the reputation of PLN, but also hurt consumers immensely, and endanger public transportation, such as MRT,” he said, referring to the newly launched metro service in the capital.

Four MRT trains were stuck in the underground part of the railway during Sunday’s blackout, stranding passengers, who had to be evacuated. Traffic lights in the capital also went out, causing jams in parts of the city.

Sunday’s blackout was caused by faulty transmission circuits that led to a “cascading failure,” disconnecting electric plants that supply power to the western part of Java island, PLN officials said.

The president urged workers to fix the problems quickly. “That’s all I’m asking,” he said.

Sripeni apologized that there would be rolling blackouts before power can be fully restored.

She explained that technicians had expected to restore power within four hours by employing the coal-powered plant in Suralaya, which has a capacity of 2,800 megawatts, enough to supply West Java and Banten provinces. But, in the end, it took more than eight hours to fix the supply shortfall, she said.

“I know all of you here are smart, especially when it comes to electricity. But why did it suddenly drop? Was there no anticipation, no calculation?” Jokowi said. “All of us suffered.”

More affluent Jakarta residents sought refuge at generator-powered shopping malls and hotels to escape boredom at home.

Indonesians who have experienced regular blackouts and chronic electricity shortages in other provinces poked fun at Jakarta residents who harped on the lack of electricity on social media.

“Please come to Kalimantan. We are used to rolling blackout,” Twitter user Febrio Pahlevisalam said, referring to the Indonesian province on the island of Borneo. “It’s only for a day and you don’t hear anyone complaining.”

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