Indonesia passes law to relocate capital to remote Borneo

Indonesia's new capital will be located in Kalimantan on Borneo. PHOTO: ST FILE

JAKARTA (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Indonesia’s Parliament has approved a Bill to relocate the nation’s capital from Jakarta to a jungled area of Kalimantan on Borneo island, the planning minister said on Tuesday (Jan 18).

The new state capital law, which provides a legal framework for President Joko Widodo’s ambitious US$32 billion (S$43 billion) mega project, stipulates how development of the capital will be funded and governed.

“The new capital has a central function and is a symbol of the identity of the nation, as well as a new centre of economic gravity,” Planning Minister Suharso Monoarfa told Parliament after the Bill was passed into law on Tuesday.

The initial relocation will start from between 2022 and 2024, with roads and ports prioritised to enable access, with some projects operating as public private partnerships, the finance ministry said.

Plans to move the government away from Jakarta, a megacity of 10 million people that suffers from chronic congestion, floods and air pollution, have been floated by multiple presidents, but none have made it this far.

Mr Jokowi, as the President is popularly known, first announced his plan in 2019, but progress was delayed by the pandemic.

The new centre will be called “Nusantara”, a Javanese name for the Indonesian archipelago, chosen by the President.

It will cover a main area of 56,180ha in East Kalimantan province.

Plans to relocate the government from Jakarta, a bustling megacity of 10 million people that suffers from chronic congestion, floods and air pollution, have been floated by multiple presidents, but none have made it this far.

South-east Asia’s largest economy has envisioned the new capital as a low-carbon “super hub” that will support pharmaceutical, health and technology sectors and promote sustainable growth beyond Java island.

But critics say the law was rushed through with limited public consultation and environmental consideration.

Nusantara – which follows the creation of new capitals in countries like Brazil and more recently Myanmar – will be led by a chief authority whose position is equivalent to a minister, deputy chairman of the Bill’s special committee, Mr Saan Mustofa, said on Monday.

Among those being considered for the position, according to local media reports, are former research and technology minister, Dr Bambang Brodjonegoro, and Jakarta’s former governor, Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok.

Indonesia, which had contemplated moving the capital for decades, would be the third country in South-east Asia to relocate their capital cities.

Next-door neighbour Malaysia moved its administrative capital to Putrajaya in 2003 and Myanmar changed its capital to Naypyitaw in 2006. 

In a video visualisation of Nusantara, people stroll on an elevated walkway through lush trees while a sheet of solar-power generating canopy covers a complex of buildings. The presidential palace is shown resembling the mythological Garuda bird, the national symbol, in the video uploaded to the official website.

The city is set to derive all its energy from renewable sources, dedicate 10 per cent of its area to produce food and ensure 80 per cent of mobility is supported by public transport, cycling or walking. By 2030, there should be an express connection between the airport and the seat of government that takes less than 50 minutes.

The new capital will be built in five phases, starting with the first one in 2022 through 2024, said Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati. The initial stage will begin with identifying where the centre of government will be located and how to develop the supporting infrastructure, which could be included in the budget for boosting economic recovery, she added.

The government is still calculating how much of the required spending will rely on the state budget, Dr Sri Mulyani said, denying that more than half would come from government coffers.

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