Jokowi defends infrastructure spending as key to national unity

All eyes on President Joko as he gave his annual speech, calling on his countrymen to step up the pace of development. President Joko Widodo delivering a speech in Parliament yesterday, the eve of Indonesia's Independence Day. He outlined several sig
President Joko Widodo delivering a speech in Parliament yesterday, the eve of Indonesia’s Independence Day. He outlined several significant achievements under his watch, citing a fall in the national unemployment rate. He also noted that the government’s projects are not focused only on Java, but spread out to benefit everyone. PHOTO REUTERS
All eyes on President Joko as he gave his annual speech, calling on his countrymen to step up the pace of development. President Joko Widodo delivering a speech in Parliament yesterday, the eve of Indonesia's Independence Day. He outlined several sig
All eyes on President Joko as he gave his annual speech, calling on his countrymen to step up the pace of development.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

He notes in annual speech that projects aim to benefit all, as opposition hits out at their lack of economic impact

Indonesia's ongoing efforts to develop and expand physical infrastructure across the archipelago is not just about creating new centres of economic growth, but is essential to unite the nation of 260 million, President Joko Widodo said in an annual address to Parliament.

In his speech before a packed assembly on the eve of Indonesia's 73rd Independence Day today, Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, noted that the projects have not been focused only on the most populous island of Java, but spread out from Sumatra to Papua as the government aims to ensure that everyone across Indonesia benefits.

"As a plural nation, we want to grow together, prosper together," Mr Joko said. "One thing we must not forget is that building infrastructure projects is building the nation's mentality and character.

"Many of us get this wrong. When we build, they see just the physical forms - toll roads, airports, MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit). What we are doing is building our civilisation, our cultural connectivity... Building infrastructure projects must be seen as an effort to unite ourselves."

The speech, Mr Joko's fourth since taking office in October 2014, comes just months ahead of next April's presidential election. Mr Joko, who is seeking a second term, will once again square off against former contender Prabowo Subianto in a straight fight.

Opposition politicians have recently criticised the President over his ambitious infrastructure projects, saying these have not helped fuel consumer buying power at a time when the country is feeling the impact of a weakening global economy.

BUILDING CULTURAL CONNECTIVITY

As a plural nation, we want to grow together, prosper together. One thing we must not forget is that building infrastructure projects is building the nation's mentality and character.

Many of us get this wrong. When we build they see just the physical forms - toll roads, airports, MRT and LRT. What we are doing is building our civilisation, our cultural connectivity... Building infrastructure projects must be seen as an effort to unite ourselves.

PRESIDENT JOKO WIDODO, in his annual address to Parliament on the eve of Indonesia's 73rd Independence Day yesterday.

  • 5.13%

  • Indonesia's unemployment rate today, down from 5.7 per cent in 2014.

In response, the government has argued that it will take several years before any concrete economic impact from the infrastructure projects will be felt by the people.

Soon after Mr Joko took office, he moved to scrap huge fuel subsidies that cost the state coffers tens of billions of dollars annually, and shifted the funds to an aggressive infrastructure undertaking.

The subsidies had made petrol prices affordable, but also led to rampant smuggling across the country's porous land and sea borders.

In his speech, Mr Joko outlined several significant achievements under his watch. He cited the decline in the national unemployment rate to 5.13 per cent today, from 5.7 per cent in 2014, attributing it to the joint efforts of various parties, including the government and private sector.

He also said that to achieve prosperity which would be felt by every section of society, the government had to ensure that development projects reach out to small and medium enterprises and the bottom 40 per cent of income earners.

His government is also currently embarking on land reforms, which involve distributing land certificates to the poor and offering financing access and lower taxes for small businesses to help them grow faster.

Mr Joko highlighted a decline in the country's Gini coefficient - which measures income inequality from zero to one, with zero being most equal - to 0.389 today from 0.406 in 2014. More work lies ahead, he said, citing the need to improve education and skills training to capture opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution - Industry 4.0 - and nurture young entrepreneurs who are creative and innovative.

"We have to talk about artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and various new technological advancements that are emerging every second... We have to adapt fast. In today's world, the quick beat the slow, no longer do the big beat the small," he said. 

He called on Indonesians to rally together at the upcoming Asian Games that start tomorrow and last until Sept 2 and that will take place in Jakarta and Palembang: "We have to show the world that Indonesia is a good host, a high-performing nation, a champion, and we uphold sportsmanship."

Indonesia will play host to over 11,000 athletes and 5,500 officials from 45 countries, the most in the history of the Games. This is only the second time, after 56 years, that Indonesia is hosting the Games.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2018, with the headline 'Jokowi defends infrastructure spending as key to national unity'. Print Edition | Subscribe