Sunday, November 23, 2008

Empire of Mud

As the economy plummets, Aburizal Bakrie, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Indonesia's richest man (well he was before all this started) and East Java mud disaster facilitator, finds himself increasingly on the ropes. After seeking, and ultimately failing, to gain preferential treatment on Jakarta's stock markets, our man has seen the value of shares in his companies plummet. Now looking increasingly punch-drunk and liable to lash out indiscriminately, Mr Bakrie's latest ruse is to bypass the country's press law and sue Tempo magazine for defamation.

With this rather spicy tale currently dominating headlines in the capital, it was with some interest that I hobbled along to the groundbreaking ceremony at the new Bakrie funded luxury apartment complex currently taking shape on Jl. Rasuna Said. The rather portentously named Rasuna Epicentrum was hosting a little ground floor reception accompanied by the music of famous local jazzer and Glenn 'Deadly' Fredly.

I sat down and was presented with an information pack by a PR girl who then proceeded to launch into an uninterrupted 15 minute jaw about the project whilst my eyes glazed over. It seems that the ultimate academic prize in Jakarta these days is to gain a specious qualification in public relations before searching for gainful employment that allows one to lie for a living.

Anyway, my enquiries as to how the project would be completed, given the aforementioned parlous state of the Bakrie Group's finances, were gently rebuffed by our inveterate PR girl. According to her, the project has Arab guarantors which effectively clears the whole question of funding up. In fact, I've read that the Arab countries, perpetually flush with petrochemical largesse, should be snapping up financial fire sale assets the world over about now.

After the spiel I was taken upstairs into some mock up apartments. Unfortunately, half an hour of hot passion didn't ensue and I was instead treated to more eye glazing PR doublespeak by our persistent corporate shill.

Apparently the apartments have been designed around a green living concept under the nausea inducing and no doubt trademarked brand name 'Greeneration'. Energy efficient buildings are indeed going to be an important part of climate change mitigation in the future though and so any genuine efforts in this direction are to be applauded.

Apartment prices range from around US$150,000 to over $300,000, which is quite a wedge of cash when you consider the average house price here. On the other hand, you would be living right in the centre of town, an important consideration given the city's super and lovely traffic conditions. Also, I guess if you're living up on eighth floor you are less likely to have your property swamped by a rising tide of mud when Mr B's driller killers start boring holes in the car park below.

As we looked through one of the dummy apartment’s windows towards the site of one of the future Bakrie towers, I noticed that the ubiquitous Jakartan shantytown was still occupying the area. "Actually, they can't live there," my guide intoned dismissively. Well, quite clearly they can live there because quite clearly they do live there. The question is what happens when the bulldozers want to move in? Going on previous form I presume that they'll splinter the urban Kampung to matchwood, scattering grandmothers and cooking utensils everywhere before getting stuck into the foundation digging.

I was then taken to see a plastic model of how the whole complex would look after completion. Rather optimistically, it included a working monorail running down Rasuna Said next to the putative towers. Still, a bit of optimism never hurt anyone ay?

I then moved on to the freebies and exchanged my little info pack token for a plastic glass of something called Bubble Tea which looked about as flat and unhealthy as the bubble economy that has just burst. After that I headed over the road to Pasar Festival Plaza which coincidentally enough houses the Bakrie School of Management. How students can walk through the doors without giving in to the urge to spray paint the prefix "Mis-" before the final word above the door, or at least let out a little snort of derision every time they go in, I don't know.

As for Mr. Bakrie himself, time will tell if he is able to ride out the current financial and political storm raging around him or whether, as seems increasingly likely, his name is mud.