Palangkaraya's chances appear hazy

Some urban planning experts argue that the coastal town of Balikpapan (above) in East Kalimantan province makes a better choice compared with Palangkaraya, which is prone to fires owing to its abundant peatlands and was at the centre of the 2015 haze
Some urban planning experts argue that the coastal town of Balikpapan (above) in East Kalimantan province makes a better choice compared with Palangkaraya, which is prone to fires owing to its abundant peatlands and was at the centre of the 2015 haze which blanketed much of South-east Asia.PHOTO: ANTARA

Haze-prone city may be ruled out as Indonesia's administrative hub

A city that was at the centre of Indonesia's worst haze looks set to be ruled out as the country's new administrative capital, despite being widely seen as the front runner.

Palangkaraya, the provincial capital of Central Kalimantan, is prone to fires owing to its abundant peatlands and was at the centre of the 2015 haze which blanketed much of South-east Asia.

An official from the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), which is in charge of conducting a study to see if it is feasible to relocate the capital from Jakarta, said the new capital should not be prone to natural disasters.

"Forest fires can be considered natural disasters. Some land may catch spontaneous fire during the peak of a dry season, and if the new capital city is covered by haze and a plane cannot land, that is a big problem," Mr Ekoputro Adijayanto, special adviser to the Bappenas chief, told The Straits Times.

"The type of soil would also be taken into consideration. If there are plenty of peatlands, then there must be backfilling work that we have to calculate the additional cost of."

The central region, where Palangkaraya is located, has the largest peatland area in Kalimantan.

Peatlands are usually waterlogged and consist mainly of decomposed vegetation, making them carbon-rich and highly flammable during the dry season.

Mr Ekoputro said the new administrative capital should have ample sources of clean water. Other things to consider are social factors, such as how welcoming locals are to newcomers as there will be an influx of civil servants and their families.

Bappenas is expected to submit its recommendation to President Joko Widodo by the year end.

Overcrowding and regular traffic jams in Jakarta, a city of 10 million people, have led the authorities to explore the possibility of a new administrative hub.

WHY NOT BALIKPAPAN?

Balikpapan already has good infrastructure - a good airport, a big sea port and it is a coastal city. Palangkaraya is far off and landlocked. Palangkaraya was also shrouded by haze for quite long and a plane could not land there.

MR YAYAT SUPRIATNA, an urban planning expert.

Other countries which have done something similar include Malaysia, which moved its administrative centre to Putrajaya, just outside capital city Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Ekoputro said Indonesia's financial hub would likely remain in Jakarta, which is on Java island, even if the country's administrative centre moves to Kalimantan.

Palangkaraya, which has a population of just over 236,000, had also been in the running to be the administrative centre decades ago.

Founding president Sukarno felt that Jakarta was built based on a blueprint from the Dutch, the former colonisers of Indonesia, and wanted to start anew. He took an interest in Kalimantan as it is in the middle of Indonesia. He started building Palangkaraya in 1957 but eventually did not move the capital.

Mr Ekoputro declined to name the cities being considered by Bappenas, saying that its choice would be disclosed only in the year-end report. But he did let on that several provincial governors have proactively offered their reserved land bank to Jakarta for a new capital.

Urban planning experts, such as Mr Yayat Supriatna, argued that Balikpapan in East Kalimantan province would be an ideal choice.

"Balikpapan already has good infrastructure - a good airport, a big sea port and it is a coastal city. Palangkaraya is far off and landlocked," Mr Yayat told The Straits Times. "Palangkaraya was also shrouded by haze for quite long and a plane could not land there."

Mr Ekoputro said that if the move goes ahead, the relocation will be funded not only by the state budget, but also by private local and foreign investors, who "can participate through a transparent and competitive bidding process."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2017, with the headline 'Palangkaraya's chances appear hazy'. Print Edition | Subscribe