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Indonesia capital bill draws concerns about democracy

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Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo (centre), defense minister Prabowo Subianto (right) and his public works counterpart Basuki Hadimuljono inspect the government’s plan to build a road to connect the Balikpapan-Samarinda toll road with the site of the new capital city. INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL SECRETARIAT PRESS BUREAU

Indonesia capital bill draws concerns about democracy

As the Indonesian government waits for the House of Representatives to start deliberating the Capital City Bill, doubts over the capital relocation plan’s promise for a less Java-centred development have resurfaced, with experts believing that the economic spark need not even be tied to the project.

At the same time, provisions on the new capital’s authority have also sparked concerns that the new administrative region could do away with people’s democratic rights.

House lawmakers are expected to start work on the bill when they return from recess early next month. The draft bill was submitted by senior officials on September 29 after the government made it clear it would revisit the relocation plan amid easing Covid-19 pressures.

Due to the cross-cutting nature of the project, the House Steering Committee (Bamus) is to decide which commission will be appointed to lead the deliberations.

The draft bill, a copy of which was obtained by the Jakarta Post last month, outlines the vision of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s 466 trillion rupiah ($33 billion) project, which aims to solve the long-standing problem of economic and developmental disparity by relocating the capital to East Kalimantan, in an area straddling the regencies of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara.

Jokowi has also said the project was a symbolic move away from the overburdened current capital Jakarta.

However, doubts remain as to whether the project should even be considered the perfect vehicle to spur growth in the country’s less developed regions in the east.

Herman Suparman, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Regional Autonomy Watch (KPPOD) think tank, warned that relocating the capital to a more central location would not automatically result in greater economic development away from Java.

“Problems that turn up in autonomous regions are not rooted in a … city’s location, but rather in other structural issues like the form that authority takes, the financial links between the centre and outlying regions, the buzz of the local economy and how socio-political support is gained,” he told the Jakarta Post recently. “That the nation’s capital is moved more centrally provides no guarantee [for change].”

In particular, the draft bill has elicited a critical response over provisions that have to do with the creation of a new authority, which will be responsible for implementing the capital city blueprint, relocating state apparatuses and eventually governing the new administrative region.

The KPPOD has taken issue with Article 9 of the bill, which stipulates that the president has the sole authority to appoint, officiate and demote the head and deputy head of the new capital authority, foregoing any election process.

Also under scrutiny is Article 10, which states that the authority would have full control over governance of the administrative capital, on top of powers to handle national defence, monetary policy and international affairs.

Unlike the Jakarta administration, which holds elections to democratically elect a governor and deputy governor pairing, residents of the new capital city are left without a choice of who will take charge once the new capital is up and running.

This decision is expected to do away with any tensions that may arise between the central government and regional administrations. In previous versions of the bill, provisions stipulated that an elected governor will co-lead the new administrative capital alongside the head of the authority, but this was removed in the most recent draft.

Covid-19 has offered proof that both the centre and the periphery may have different ideas on how to handle a crisis, as was the case last year when the government refused to grant the demands of regional heads to impose a hard lockdown for fear of crippling the economy.

There will always be the risk that “political interest trumps meritocracy” if the president is allowed to have the final say on who governs the new capital, Herman said.

“From our observation, the problem with economic development in other regions has been the lacking capacity and integrity [of its leaders]. We have to make sure that whoever the president appoints does not get the post because of underlying political motivations,” the researcher said.

Should the government and lawmakers insist on the direct appointment of the authority’s head, Herman said the selection process must be made publicly accountable.

“We mustn’t let the problems that have burdened regional development repeat in the new capital, because it could reflect [badly] on Indonesia,” Herman said.

One alternative, according to constitutional law expert Feri Amsari of Andalas University, is for the new capital to not have any civilians residing within the area. Instead, they would live in the new capital’s satellite cities. This way, the capital would be used only for state administrative purposes.

“If that was the case, civilians would not have to elect a government official to represent them. Only then would it be okay for the new capital authority to have complete control to govern the new city,” Feri said last month.

If, however, the capital is intended to house any number of residents, he said it was the people who must elect their representatives – not the president.

According to Article 13 of the current draft bill, the new capital will not have a legislative city council of its own that would otherwise be responsible for the legislation and budgeting needed to ensure residents’ quality of life and rights while also holding the capital authority accountable.

Meanwhile, Ah Maftuchan, executive director of the Jakarta-based social welfare think tank Perkumpulan Prakarsa, expressed concerns about the potential diminishing of land rights for current residents of the 256,142ha plot of land where the capital is to be built.

According to Article 23 of the draft bill, residents who currently have ownership of land in the area will have to sell to the government, although the bill does not go into detail about pricing or how the transactions will happen.

“The government needs to ensure that the people living there will have their environmental, economic, social and administrative rights considered in any policy the state plans to make vis-a-vis the new capital,” Maftuchan told the Jakarta Post recently.

Additionally, Article 24 of the bill stipulates that funding for the relocation and governance of the new capital can be sourced from special taxes or levies, although it also fails to mention how such state revenue will be collected.

THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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