Indonesian president inaugurates power plant project despite land dispute

JAKARTA (BLOOMBERG) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo pushed ahead with the inauguration of a long-delayed US$4 billion (S$5.6 billion) power project even as some farmers hold out against selling their land for the plant's construction.

Full-scale work at the Batang site in central Java will only begin when the remaining 10 per

cent of land needed is fully acquired, said Masao Kitakaze, a Tokyo-based spokesman for Japan's Electric Power Development Co., one of the project's developers along with Itochu Corp. and Indonesia's PT Adaro Energy.

The president attended a ceremony at the site on Friday to kick off construction, state electricity company PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara said.

Starting work on the plant is a test case of Widodo's ability to cut through the land disputes and red tape that have bedeviled the building of bridges, roads and ports in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

Widodo, known as Jokowi, said on a visit to Japan in March that the project was expected to start in April.

"The president is being too hasty here," said Desriko, a spokesman for Greenpeace speaking by phone from Batang. "I don't know what they are calling this, a construction kickoff or a groundbreaking ceremony, but they shouldn't be doing it."

On June 30, the Central Java government issued a notice assigning the state electricity company the right to use a 2012 land law to acquire 12.5 hectares of land it stated had yet to be obtained.

The land law, which was formulated to speed up bottlenecked public infrastructure projects, allows for compulsory purchase of land within set timeframes.

Police and military officers were stationed in villages and on roads leading to the proposed project, preventing those opposed to the plant from attending the ceremony, said Desriko and two villagers contacted by phone.

"The president shouldn't have come," said Chayadi, a farmer with three plots of land he is refusing to sell.

"This is the land of my ancestors, it is fertile. Why should I sell?"