Friday, February 07, 2014

Yes We Can?

Time for a quick progress report on Jakarta’s new governor

Jakarta's very own caped crusaders, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and his trusty sidekick Basuki "Ahok" Purnama Tjahaya, scorched into town aboard their governor’s Batmobile on the back of a historic election victory in 2012 and there were high hopes that our new Governator would draw the line under the corruption, indolence and Machiavellian rent seeking of previous administrations. There is simply no time to lose though, as the capital's infrastructure can be described as moribund at best, and at worst about half a century behind where it should be.

Inaugurated last October to much fanfare, the former Mayor of Solo set reformist pulses a fluttering from the get go by busying himself with the Indonesian capital's multidimensional problems, breathing a breath of fresh air into the stale Bajaj fug of City Hall in the process.

But just how has Jakarta's very own Obama fared over the last year plus? Has he brought rebirth and renewal to the nation's capital or has he proved to be as disappointingly conservative and beholden to entrenched interests as that still-quacking lame duck, the former Barry Soetoro? Let's take a closer look…


Our man has busied himself visiting local markets in order to check on the prices of staple goods. Jokowi is also liaising closely with Jakarta's Co-Operative, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Trade Agency and is listening to vendors’ concerns. By his own admission though, controlling prices will be a tough nut to crack. Plans to renovate and modernise the city's wet markets are all well and good, however recent price spikes and a forthcoming reduction in fuel subsidies and its accompanying inflation will mean more pain for the poor.


Three more busway corridors are planned for the city and these ones will be elevated in an attempt to alleviate congestion (as opposed to actually exacerbating congestion as the current busway lanes arguably do). One hundred and two badly needed new busway buses were also recently christened.

The real question though is when the capital's MRT project will finally steam out of platform one. Jokowi has very wisely put the whole scheme under the fiscal microscope, as the potential for graft and corruption on mega infrastructure such as this is colossal. Indeed, the steepness of the proposed Rp. 110 trillion price tag that comes with this project borders on the perpendicular.

Ultimately, this MRT scheme is going to need some heavy backing from central government. The city budget is hoping to provide around 60 per cent of the funding needed for the project with the government providing the rest of the money in order to repay a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Jakarta remains the largest city in the world not to have its own MRT system and journeys by car across the capital can now be measured in geological time. Fingers crossed folks!


Jokowi set up the Jakarta health-card programme upon taking office and this aims to offer free healthcare to the poor. To date though, only a few thousand of a possible 4.7 million eligible Jakarta residents have received healthcare cards. Not only is the city administration short on funds for the printing of these cards but there are also obstacles to implementing the programme at the 17 hospitals and 200 designated community health centres across the capital. The administration has allocated Rp. 1 trillion for healthcare over the next year, however the new governor has come under fire from those who claim that his programmes are poorly planned and underfunded.


Jakarta has once again turned into Atlantis this current wet season and climate change, combined with a literally sinking city, doesn't bode well for a dry future for the capital. President SBY has approved Jokowi's flood-prevention programmes, which include the relocation of riverbank squatters, the widening of rivers to increase the flow of water, construction of upstream reservoirs, a pump system in North Jakarta, a special "spillway" for the East Jakarta Flood canal and a system of 10,000 wells to absorb run-off water. In total, Rp. 250 billion has been allocated for flood prevention initiatives. Sounds good but these are long-term programmes and don't necessarily guarantee victory against that ubiquitous H2O. 2002, 2007, 2013? 2014? Brace yourself for next year once again folks.


Jokowi has described social disparity as his biggest worry and one could drive a busway fleet side-by-side through the ever-widening gap that persists between Jakarta's haves and have-nots. Such a gap has its dangers, and the city's hyper-dense social pressure cooker risks blowing its top as it did back in 1998. Jokowi's healthcare and education programmes have been given top priority by the new governor, who shows a concern for poverty unmatched by both his predecessors and by the national government.

Social-welfare policies are an ideological hornet’s nest the world over, however there can be no question that Jakarta and its 360 slum areas have been severely neglected. Inaction on this issue is surely morally inadmissible and Jokowi represents a break with the past in a country that has largely ignored its poorest citizens since the days of the New Order regime.

Green Areas

Jokowi plans to double the city’s presently woeful lack of green space. Twenty per cent of Jakarta’s total area is the governor's ambitious first-term target and several projects are planned. It remains to be seen how he'll get on though as the economy booms and new malls and apartments spring up across town while land prices skyrocket and the pursuit of profit continues to trump all considerations of liveability.


Governor Jokowi swept to power bearing the hopes of millions on his shoulders. His, "Yes we can," determination offered the city its best hope for the future since former-governor Ali Sadikin attempted to modernise the Indonesian capital in the '60s and '70s. How our man will fare as he locks antlers with the country’s nest-feathering political machine is still an open question but if the capital can't improve its infrastructure now, when the economy is booming, then when exactly can it? Onwards and upwards please.