Indonesia President Joko Widodo seeks to speed up 'Silicon Valley'-like capital

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (centre) speaks to journalists during a visit to East Kalimantan province in the island of Borneo on Dec 17, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday (Dec 18) he had ordered his Cabinet to speed up a US$33 billion (S$44.76 billion) project to move the capital city from Jakarta to forested Borneo island so that the new "Silicon Valley"-like city could be ready by 2023.

That timeline is a year earlier than the government's original estimate and Mr Joko said he had also ordered the construction of basic infrastructure to begin next year.

The president announced in August the government intended to move the administrative capital to East Kalimantan province, on Borneo, by 2024 to relieve the heavy burden on the current capital Jakarta due to overcrowding and pollution.

He visited the site of the new city for two days from Tuesday, observing from a helicopter the spot where a new state palace was due to be built, according to government statements.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Mr Joko said the government would form a new agency to oversee the relocation project next month and it would then officially submit a Bill backing the move to Parliament.

"The whole process, including the grand design, I hope can be completed in six months. Then, we can do some land clearing and basic infrastructure construction," he wrote on the posting, next to a photograph of himself standing on some barren, scrubby land atop a hill.

While some Indonesians have been excited by the plans to move the capital, some green groups have criticised the project for its potential environmental impact and others have questioned how Indonesia will raise the funds to build it.

Some non-governmental organisations have also said that a number of national and local politicians with land interests in the area could stand to benefit from the mega project.

The 256,000ha site of the capital is on highland overseeing a bay, Mr Joko said, noting government offices would begin to be built next year and should be ready by 2023.

On Tuesday, Mr Joko expressed hope that the new capital could be the "next Silicon Valley" due to a cluster of research and innovation facilities envisaged for the area.

He also inaugurated the first toll road in the Kalimantan area.

Jakarta, the current capital of the world's fourth-most populous country, on the island of Java, is now home to 10 million people and is sinking due to over-extraction of ground water, as well as being prone to floods and traffic gridlock.

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