Infrastructure developments aim to unite Indonesia, says Jokowi in annual Parliament address

Indonesian President Joko Widodo is seeking a second and final term in office in the five-yearly election next April.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo is seeking a second and final term in office in the five-yearly election next April.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - The acceleration of infrastructure development will create new economic centres that will in turn give added value to Indonesia's regions, President Joko Widodo said on Thursday (Aug 16) in his annual address to Parliament on the eve of Indonesia's 73rd Independence Day.

The projects have not only been focused on the most populous island of Java, but also spread out from Sumatra to Papua as the government aims to ensure that everyone across Indonesia benefits.

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

"Many of us have got this wrong, that when we build they see just the physical forms - toll-roads, airport, MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit). What we really do is to build civilisation, cultural connectivity.

"Building infrastructure projects must be seen as our efforts to unite ourselves."

Early after he took office in 2014, Mr Joko made an un-populist breakthrough by scrapping huge fuel subsidies - costing the government tens of billions of dollars annually - and shifted the allocated budget to fund aggressive infrastructure undertakings.

The fuel subsidies had for decades made petrol prices very affordable at home.


Mr Joko is seeking a second and final term in office in the five-yearly election next April, when Indonesians will witness a rematch between him and his old rival Prabowo Subianto.

Opposition politicians have recently criticised Mr Joko's ambitious infrastructure projects, saying they have not helped to fuel consumer buying power at times when the country is feeling the impact of a global economic weakness.

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.

In his speech, Mr Joko also boasted about the decline of Indonesia's unemployment rate to 5.13 per cent now, from 5.7 per cent a year earlier, attributing it to the joint efforts by various parties, the government and the private sector.

Mr Joko also said that to achieve prosperity which can be felt by everyone, the government must ensure that projects reach the small and medium enterprise businesses and the bottom 40 per cent of income earners.

The government is currently carrying out a land reform, involving the distribution of land certificates to the poor and offering financing access and lower taxes to boost small businesses, Mr Joko underlined.

He also boasted about a decline in the Gini coefficient - which measures income inequality from zero to one, with zero being most equal - to 0.389 now from 0.406 a year earlier.

However, Indonesia needs to make progress in other areas, such as in protecting its forest and land, Mr Joko said referring to the errant corporations and farmers who commit illegal slash-and-burn practices to clear wild or forested land to make way for plantations. 

“Our firm stance has proven fruitful,” he added.

“The total area of forest and plantation that caught fire has significantly declined compared to the previous years. Such a firm stance would not yield maximum results without public participation. 

“My gratitude and respect to the armed forces, police, local governments and residents that gave high dedication in preventing and fighting the threats of forest fire.” 

Indonesia had a major forest and plantation fire in 2015 that sent thick haze travelling across borders to Singapore and parts of Malaysia. This led to harsher law enforcement and better fire prevention measures by the government and private sector. 

Mr Joko also issued a warning that he would sack the provincial police chief or territorial military chief in charge of an area where forest fires were not handled well.