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Huge problems in greater Jakarta

Bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, especially during peak hours, are a common sight in Jakarta, which is also beset by intractable problems such as flooding. (PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE)

Publication Date : 29-06-2012


Jakarta, as every traveller to the city soon discovers, faces enormous problems.

Traffic congestion has long been at alarming levels, particularly during the morning and evening peak hours. Public transportation is woefully inadequate, while air pollution, persistent water shortages, and an almost non-existent sewerage system present serious health hazards.

But while critics rail at the corruption and administrative incompetence that often seems to be at the heart of Indonesia's problems, the most serious challenges facing Jakarta's urban planners may well lie elsewhere.

One issue is the capital's sheer size. Government statistics now put the population of Jakarta at more than 10 million, a figure which does not include the burgeoning satellite cities of Bogor, Depok, Tengerang and Bekasi.

The main challenge facing city planners, however, is the fact that the most effective solutions involve the cooperation of local governments that do not form part of the Jakarta Special Capital Region.

Solving Jakarta's perennial flooding, for example, requires the regencies in the upper reaches of the 13 rivers that run through Jakarta to refrain from permitting the construction of hotels and other developments in ways that have an impact on the catchment areas of these rivers.

Neighbouring administrations, however, are rarely in a cooperative mood.

In March 2007, West Java Governor Dani Setiawan famously told the Jakarta administration that instead of complaining, it should thank the province. 'Jakarta always accuses West Java of causing flooding in the capital, but ignores the fact that we are also its main supplier of water,' he said on the sidelines of a World Water Day event in Bogor. West Java province includes the regencies of Bekasi, Depok and Bogor.

West Java's Citarum Dam is one of the main sources of raw water for the capital's piped water company.

When it can, Jakarta also plays hardball. Much of the capital's rubbish is transported to the Jakarta- operated Bantar Gebang landfill in Bekasi for disposal. Jakarta has a contract with Bekasi, renewed in 2009, to use the Bantar Gebang landfill until 2029. But in April this year, when Bekasi expressed interest in using the site as well, Jakarta demanded a waste treatment fee of 105,834 rupiah (US$11.00) per ton, more than three times the amount the regency's sanitation agency said it could afford.

Attempts to overcome these problems by creating some form of coordinating body have a long history. In 1975, the Cooperation Agency for the Jakarta Metropolitan Area Development was jointly established by the provincial administrations of West Java and Jakarta to coordinate planning and monitor development in the wider Jakarta metropolitan area.

The organisation, which still exists, is headed jointly by the governors of West Java, Banten and Jakarta. However, it does not have any real authority. Nor does it have its own staff or financial resources. The West Java regencies most directly affected are not represented either.

Former Jakarta governor Sutiyoso (1997-2007) suggested that these deficiencies could be overcome with the formation of a new administration encompassing Jakarta and its satellite cities under a single governor. More recently, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono proposed a similar solution, with the difference that authority would reside with a national rather than a provincial-level body. Neither idea, however, has proven popular with the West Java administration, which would stand to lose some of its wealthiest regencies.

Indeed, vested interests seem so strong that any effort to establish a single authority with powers similar to those of major global cities such as Tokyo seems doomed to failure.

Last month, researcher Robert Endi of Regional Autonomy Watch (KPPOD) told The Straits Times that he supported a compromise involving the formation of a regional body to which all the administrations concerned would contribute funds aimed at solving specific problems. The approach, similar to that of the Greater London Authority, would certainly help promote both transparency and accountability. The KPPOD is a non-governmental organisation specialising in local government issues.

Not all Jakarta's woes, however, need to be tackled by such a body. Somewhat paradoxically, while greater Jakarta's problems can often be traced to a lack of coordination between the capital and the regencies in neighbouring provinces, Endi believes that the parlous state of many basic services within the capital are the result of excessive centralisation.

Currently, he notes, the five local mayors within the Jakarta Special Capital Region have little autonomy. Their ability to act is constrained by the fact that they must refer to the city's governor before they can tackle issues that require local solutions, such as firefighting preparedness and park management.

As Jakarta's gubernatorial election approaches, the city's problems are once again getting a public hearing. Hopefully, some of the above issues will also receive serious consideration.


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