Indonesia looks to MBZ’s lobbying power for projects

Indonesia is moving ahead with its $33-billion mega project plan to relocate its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan by establishing a steering committee of global figures. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 23 January 2020

Indonesia looks to MBZ’s lobbying power for projects

  • UK’s ex-PM Tony Blair and SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son roped in, says Widodo

JAKARTA: Indonesia is moving ahead with its $33-billion mega project plan to relocate its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan by establishing a steering committee of global figures, which includes Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who are expected to boost foreign investors’ trust and an interest to participate in constructing the new city from scratch.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the other two figures were former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and founder and chief executive of Japan’s SoftBank, Masayoshi Son, who would be working pro bono for their assistance.

“In my view, these figures have a good reputation in the international world, but we will still be the ones dealing with operational matters on the field,” Widodo said, according to a statement from the presidential palace.

He added that these figures were expected to build the trust of foreign investors which would eventually make it easier for Indonesia to forge deals and cooperation, as the government expects to finance only 19 percent of the cost, while the rest of the projects will be funded by private investments and public-private partnership schemes.

He said the three men were experienced in dealing with development projects, with the crown prince’s success in building Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, Son’s reputation in the technology and financial sectors, and Blair’s experience in governance.

But an economist at the Jakarta-based Institute for Development of Economics and Finance, Rizal Taufikurahman, questioned the urgency of appointing them specifically for the new capital construction project.

“If the main consideration is their lobbying power, why not appoint them for other development projects as a whole?” he told Arab News. “Besides, foreign investors’ confidence to invest depends more on things such as the ease of doing business, legal certainty, national security, and stability. We won’t solve our development problems just by relocating the capital.”

The government said the crown prince had agreed to the appointment.

According to the chief maritime affairs and investment minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, the crown prince said “it would be an honor to have a role in the development of the largest predominantly Muslim country.”


Widodo said these figures were expected to build the trust of foreign investors which would eventually make it easier for Indonesia to forge deals and cooperation.

Blair heads an institute that has governance as one of its key areas of work. It says it is focused on helping governments and leaders make their vision for development a reality. “We work in the center of government and key line ministries and our work is shaped by national priorities,” and lists African countries in the institute’s client roster.

“We are still drawing up their roles. The president will be in charge and they will provide him with advice,” Pandjaitan told journalists. “They will be the figures to promote (the new capital construction) but they will not act as brokers,” he added.

He said that the UAE and SoftBank had expressed an interest in investing in the as yet-unnamed new capital, about 1,300 kilometers away from Jakarta, with the latter offering to chip in $30 billion to $40 billion.

It was not clear whether the investors would pump their money into the projects directly or through the Indonesian sovereign wealth fund, which the UAE has committed to help in establishing and investing in, in addition to investment pledges from SoftBank and the US International Development Finance Corporation.

Pandjaitan said he expected to meet with SoftBank’s Son on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos and in Tokyo later this month to finalize the fund, while the bill that will oversee the funding is being drafted.

“We are preparing the (financing) structure and the president will announce the decision in February,” Pandjaitan said, adding that despite rolling out the red carpet for the private sector to construct the new city, the government would foot the bill for the construction of key government offices.

Widodo announced in August that the government planned to move the capital to a 180,000-hectare area between the districts of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara in East Kalimantan province, envisioning it as a smart, green city. 

Groundbreaking is slated to take place in early 2021 and the initial move will begin by the end of 2024 when the president’s second and final term ends.

Pakistan braced for double blow of coronavirus outbreak

Updated 14 min 39 sec ago

Pakistan braced for double blow of coronavirus outbreak

  • Prime Minister Imran Khan is trying at once to prevent a collapse of the economy and contain the spread of the virus
  • Rising curve of infections puts pressure on health system while lockdown measures threaten livelihoods of millions

KARACHI: Just a few days after he had returned from a visit to Iran, Yahya Jafri, a 22-year-old Pakistani national, became “patient zero” of Pakistan’s now explosive coronavirus outbreak.

Once he was diagnosed as having the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on Feb. 27, his family was moved to Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi, according to Meeran Yousuf, a spokesperson for Sindh province’s Health Department.

Around the same time several other Pakistanis returning from pilgrimage in Iran also tested positive for the virus, prompting authorities to suspend all flights to Iran.

Given the highly infectious nature of COVID-19, the move was perhaps a case of too little too late.

On March 25, Pakistan’s health minister claimed that 78 percent of the country’s total coronavirus patients had a history of travel to Iran.

“Every state defends its own interests first in such times," Umair Muhammad Hasni, a Balochistan government spokesperson, said while announcing the sealing of the border with Iran.

“Returning pilgrims are being pushed by Iran into a buffer zone between the two countries. We just cannot leave those people here.”

Iran has been accused by Gulf countries too of letting pilgrims depart without screening them for COVID-19 infection.

But that is scant comfort for a country of 220 million people reeling from a full-blown outbreak.

Pakistan’s cities have been under a partial lockdown for the past several weeks.

Schools, educational institutions, shopping malls and other usually crowded public places have been shut across the country.

After facing criticism for lacking a unified response to the public-health crisis, the government has extended a nationwide lockdown till April 14.

It has set aside economic concerns for now and suspended flights and business activities in an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Pakistan, like neighbor India, faces an uphill battle in its belated attempt to "flatten the curve” of infections.

As of Sunday, the country had a total of 2,665 active COVID-19 cases, 45 deaths and 170 recoveries.

The government is getting flak for moving too slowly to stop large gatherings when the need of the hour is “social distancing” among other precautionary measures.

But as analysts have pointed out, the political leadership faces a painful choice between protecting public health and preventing an economic meltdown.

With blunt speeches, Prime Minister Khan is seeking to convince Pakistanis of the seriousness of the situation.

Attending a ceremony recently in Lahore, he said about 50-60 million of his compatriots are already below the poverty line and cannot afford to have two meals a day.

"Above these people are 50-60 million others, who are right at the border,” he said.



*220 million Pakistan’s population

*2,880 Total coronavirus cases (as of April 4)

*3.04% Official unemployment rate (as of 2018)

*35.1% Share of population living in cities

*5.70% GDP growth rate

“If one misfortune befalls them, they are pushed below the poverty line."

Pakistan was beset with problems ranging from an anemic economy and political dissension to dwindling investment flows when the coronavirus storm hit.

Now the challenge confronting the country is of a completely different order from anything it has dealt with in living memory.

Even the accuracy of the government’s coronavirus data is questioned by many Pakistanis.

Earlier this last week, Faisal Edhi, who heads Pakistan’s biggest charity, Edhi Foundation, accused officials, especially those in the largest province, Punjab, of underreporting COVID-19 cases.

“We are daily burying six to seven people with respiratory (illness) symptoms,” Edhi told Arab News.

A spokesperson of the Punjab health department rejected the charge, adding that COVID-19 deaths were not being concealed.

Edhi estimates that Punjab has 14,000 confirmed cases, a figure several times the number cited by provincial authorities.

As of March 31, according to official data, Punjab and Sindh had tested respectively 15,000 and 7,000 people for the coronavirus infection.

The corresponding figures for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces was 1,711 and 2,113.

Liaquat Shahwani, a Balochistan government spokesperson, said more tests will be conducted once the province receives 1,000 test kits from the federal government.

He said the official request was for 50,000 kits due to the large number of people affected by the outbreak in Balochistan.

Dr Zafar Mirza, the prime minister’s assistant on health issues, has said more than 15,000 people have been tested across the country.

“The country is rapidly increasing its capacity of testing and treatment to cope with the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

For his part, Asad Umar, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, said “our testing capacity” has been increased from 30,000 to 280,000, and will be raised to 900,000 by mid-April.“

Saqib Mumtaz, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), said Pakistan has got ventilators and protective gears from China, adding that orders had been placed for another 3,000 ventilator units.

The UAE announced through its embassy in Islamabad that it had sent its first batch of medical supplies.

Even as foreign medical assistance begins to arrive, reports of new coronavirus cases are pouring in from across the country.

Each province is now enforcing its own partial or full lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

The Sindh government has established isolation centers in 12 different hospitals, having won praise for being the first to announce a lockdown with effect from March 23.

At the same time, it has placed a ban on Friday prayer gatherings for fear of local transmission, which accounts for most of the province’s 830 cases.

A number of quarantine and isolation facilities are also up and running across the country.

Punjab says that in addition to its quarantine capacity for 27,000 people, up to 100,000 patients can be treated in hospitals if the situation deteriorates further.

With “flattening the curve” of infections beyond the realm of imagination, Pakistan’s provincial governments and the national government have their work cut out for them.

In his address in Lahore, Khan said there is no denying that these are difficult times.

"It is difficult because no one has the experience to deal with such a crisis,” he said.

Khan noted that countries with far greater resources, competent institutions and well-funded health systems were reeling from the pandemic’s blow.

“The US has prepared a $2,000bn relief package whereas we can barely manage a $8bn one,” he said, pointing out that despite its resources, there is “a breakdown of (US) systems.”

Khan added: “If this is what can happen to them, our situation was dire to begin with.”