JAKARTA - Following up on his plan to relocate Indonesia's capital city, President Joko Widodo on Tuesday (May 7) visited Kalimantan island, where a few areas have been judged by officials as being suitable sites.
Mr Joko arrived in Balikpapan, a major city in East Kalimantan province, before heading to an area called Bukit Suharto, or Suharto Hill, which is situated in Kutai Kartanegara regency, according to a Cabinet Secretary statement on Tuesday.
President Joko late last month okayed a plan to develop a new administrative capital away from Jakarta, a sprawling metropolis of more than 10 million people.
Indonesia's biggest city has suffered from traffic congestion, overcrowding, widespread pollution and regular flooding for decades. Jakarta is also sinking by some 10cm a year, as its residents have dug deep wells to draw out raw water.
Said Mr Joko during the Kalimantan visit: "I see everything here is very supportive (to the relocation plan). It happens to be positioned in the middle of the Samarinda-Balikpapan toll road."
He was referring to Bukit Suharto's location between East Kalimantan's provincial capital of Samarinda and a neighbouring city.
The President, who was on the tour with several Cabinet members, noted that both Samarinda and Balikpapan already have airports and seaports, thus saving on development costs should the new capital be chosen at the site.
In his entourage were Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono, National Development and Planning Agency chief Bambang Brodjonegoro and National Land Agency chief Sofyan Djalil.
Bukit Suharto is one of the locations that the National Planning Agency (Bappenas) has been assessing for the new capital in the past year and a half, after taking into account political, social, economic and environmental factors.
Apart from East Kalimantan, the provinces of Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan have also been declared as feasible sites for the new capital by National Disaster Management Agency. This is because, historically, the three provinces are not prone to geological natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
From East Kalimantan, the President is scheduled to visit Central Kalimantan later on Tuesday, and is to spend the night at its capital Palangkaraya.
He is to continue his observation of other potential sites on Wednesday.
Palangkaraya has been widely discussed as an option for the new administrative capital.
But though it is safe geologically, the area is prone to fires and haze due to the vast surrounding peatlands. Palangkaraya was at the centre of the 2015 haze which blanketed many parts of South-east Asia.
Bappenas has said that the relocation will likely take five years and require between US$23 billion (S$31.3 billion) and US$33 billion of investments.
As the state budget cannot bear the cost alone, the government has called for private investors to take part in the planned project.
The President, who is on course to win the April elections, revived the plan to relocate the capital from Jakarta last week, which had sparked mixed reactions nationwide.
Mr Joko reiterated that the plan to move the capital has been floated by his predecessors, starting from Indonesia's first president Sukarno.
"We essentially want to see what our future vision will look like, and the most important thing is that as a big nation, we want to have a government centre that is separated from the economic, business, trade and service centre. We want to step forward as an advanced nation," he was quoted as saying in a presidential office press statement.