Indonesians divided over plan to move capital from Jakarta

The government’s plan to relocate the capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan has met with lukewarm support from the public. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 October 2019

Indonesians divided over plan to move capital from Jakarta

  • President Jokowi has said government will cover 19% of the $33 billion relocation cost
  • Government has allocated 180,000 hectares of land in East Kalimantan for new capital

JAKARTA: Having heard for months from the media about government plans to move the administrative capital from Jakarta, Indonesians got a clearer picture when President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo formally placed the idea before the country’s parliament in August. 

So far, the government has completed part of the spadework in preparation for the transfer: Conducting a three-year study and requesting parliament’s consent for the plan to move the capital to a location in East Kalimantan province, on Borneo, an island Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei.

Jokowi, who began his second and final term on Oct. 20, had formally asked the public to sign off on the plan during his annual state of the nation address in Aug. Ten days later he announced that the government had earmarked 180,000 hectares of land straddling the districts of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara in East Kalimantan province for the new capital.

Jokowi has pegged the cost of the relocation of the capital from Jakarta at $33 billion. He claims the government will need to carry only 19 percent of the cost, while the remainder will be taken care of by private investments and public-private partnership schemes.

The National Development Planning Agency, or Bappenas, has fixed 2021 as the year for the groundbreaking of the project. It will launch the transfer process by the end of 2024, the year Joko’s presidential term ends.

Defending the decision to select a site in remote East Kalimantan to be the as-yet-unnamed new capital, Jokowi has said that it will spur regional development and reduce economic disparity between Java and other parts of Indonesia.




Coastal village in East Kalimantan, where the new Indonesian capital is proposed to be relocated. (Shutterstock)

Jokowi, whose re-election was partly propeled by a vigorous infrastructure drive, has also said the new capital’s location will be strategic: in the country’s middle in addition to being close to two developing cities — Samarinda and Balikpapan — which have the advantages of a major seaport and international airports.

The government also said that East Kalimantan is less prone to natural disasters because the island is not part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. By contrast, Sumatra, Java and other islands on the southern side of the archipelago are dotted with active volcanoes and prone to earthquakes and tsunamis.

The downside, however, is that East Kalimantan and its neighboring provinces are prone to man-made disasters. The annual forest fires caused by slash-and-burn land-clearing methods — mainly for palm oil plantations — produce thick smog, which creates a toxic haze in places as far away as Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia’s part of Borneo.

The problem is compounded by a combination of easily burned peat lands and a long-drawn-out dry season. Satellite images show that East Kalimantan is one of the provinces with the highest number of hotspots, or areas where fires are detected.

Greenpeace, the environmental watchdog, has pointed out that during the 2015 forest fires, 3,487 hotspots were found in the Kutai Kartanegara district alone.

Leonard Simanjuntak, Greenpeace Indonesia’s country director, said that environmental concerns should be taken into consideration before the capital is relocated from Jakarta.

INNUMBERS

$40.1 BILLION - Budget allocation for Jakarta’s urban revamping.

$33 BILLION - Cost of building the new capital.

1.5 MILLION - Expected population of new capital.

1,300 KILOMETERS - Distance from Jakarta to site of new capital. 1-15cm Annual rate of Jakarta’s surface subsidence.

1957 - Year first President Sukarno floated the idea of moving the capital to Kalimantan.

“The threat posed by the global climate crisis or the environmental mismanagement of Jakarta should not be a reason to cut and run by moving the capital,” he told Arab News.

“However, it must provide a wake-up call and become a major consideration in Indonesia’s development strategy going forward. The relocation of our capital will only shift environmental problems or create new ones,” Leonard told Arab News.

The government, though, envisions the new capital as a city built from scratch, with at least 50 percent green spaces; less dependence on private vehicles thanks to an integrated public-transport network, bicycle lanes and wide pedestrian paths; buildings with green designs; renewables meeting part of the energy requirements; and “smart” water and waste management systems.

Despite its determination to go ahead with the capital transfer, the government has yet to rally public opinion behind the idea.

A survey conducted by Kedai Kopi, a political pollster, in August showed that 95.7 percent of respondents who were from Jakarta disagreed with the idea of transferring the capital.

Across the country, the percentage of respondents who did not support the idea was 39.8 percent. This was higher than the number of respondents who agreed with the plan (35.6 percent) and who had no opinion on the issue (24.6 percent).

“It is no wonder that most respondents from Jakarta disagreed with the plan since they would be the most impacted by the move,” Kunto Wibowo, the executive director of pollster Kedai Kopi, told Arab News.

The concerns are well founded. Jakarta is notorious for its traffic congestion and worsening air quality in addition to being a sinking city due to land subsidence (at a rate from 1cm to 15cm annually).

In another national survey, conducted by pollster Median, 45.3 percent of 1,000 respondents did not agree with the capital-transfer idea compared to the 40.7 percent who agreed.

Rico Marbun, executive director of Median, said in a statement that 58.6 percent of respondents felt the government ought to tackle more pressing issues, notably a stagnant economy, poverty and public welfare, unemployment and lack of opportunities; social unrest in Papua and West Papua provinces, and infrastructure. 




A view of a heavily mined and logged forestland in East Kalimantan, where the proposed new capital of Indonesia is to be located. (Shutterstock)

Speaking to Arab News, Nirwono Joga, an urban planning expert at Jakarta’s Trisakti University, said: “If there were funds available to develop a new capital, it would be wiser to divert it to accelerate urban development in other cities.

“We can’t stop people from moving to Jakarta but we can avert it by developing new economic zones outside the greater Jakarta area and outside Java.”

For his part, Jokowi has been assuring Indonesians that Jakarta will not cease to be a government priority.

“Jakarta will continue to be developed as an international and regional business, finance, trade and service hub,” he said.

“The city administration has allocated 571 trillion rupiahs ($40.1 billion) for urban regeneration in the city. The plan is ready for execution.”

An estimated 10 million Indonesians live in Jakarta proper. If the population of the satellite cities is included, many of whom commute into the capital every day, the total figure is 30 million.

The principal city of Java, Indonesia’s most populated island, Jakarta is home to about 149 million people — or more than half of the country’s total population.

As such, Jakarta’s status as Indonesia’s business and finance capital is not under any immediate threat.

It will also continue to be the diplomatic capital of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A new secretariat building of ASEAN’s headquarters in Jakarta was inaugurated on Aug. 8, ASEAN Day, to mark the bloc’s formation in 1967. Of the 93 ambassadors accredited to ASEAN, 74 are currently based in Jakarta.

“The secretariat will not be moving to Kalimantan because we just got a new building,” Lim Jock Hoi, ASEAN’s secretary-general, said at the ASEAN editors’ roundtable of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) in Bangkok, Thailand, on Oct. 6.

“We will strengthen our presence in Jakarta and there’s no way that we can move to Kalimantan if the capital is there.”

Beyond the diplomatic, economic and strategic arguments, Jakarta has a certain intangible edge over other Indonesian cities. As Fadli Zon, a former deputy House Speaker, pointed out recently, it is the city where the country’s independence was declared and the state ideology Pancasila developed, as well as where the constitution was formulated and drafted.

“This collective memory is what unites us as a nation,” he said.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”