Jakarta Globe | Insight

Moving Indonesia’s Political Ground Zero

SP Photo/Joanito De Saojoao

JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya

Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay

JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro

Jakarta. There is nothing new under Jakarta’s burning sun, including the idea of ripping the city’s prestigious status as Indonesia’s capital and giving it to somewhere else.

The nation’s first president, Sukarno, started the argument back in the 1950s and came up with Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan as the alternative. But more than six decades later, Jakarta is still the capital, ground zero for groundbreaking political movements, business deals, art inspiration and even religious epiphanies for some.

In this day of artificial intelligence and light-speed gossip on social media, scholars and businesses agree that the government has to be data-driven to make the right decision in choosing another city as the capital. Especially when the cost of moving is anything but cheap.

The Jakarta Globe’s Tabita Diela sat down with National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro earlier this month for a discussion on Indonesia’s rapid urbanization, growing megacities and – ultimately – the new capital.

“We are still conducting a study to find an ideal location,” Bambang said. “Surely, we will find locations outside Java where the land is already owned by the government, so there is no need for land acquisition or compensation.”

Bambang admitted that there has yet to be any definite conclusion on where the location might be or how much the government would need to spend on a new capital. However, he said the government has had a few criteria in mind for the location, such as the site should be bigger than Jakarta; should be safe and have the smallest likelihood of being affected by natural disasters; should have an adequate water supply and good air quality to sustain its growth.

Bambang said his ministry will have a clear vision of the criteria by the end of this year and the government will soon begin a feasibility study – including an estimate of the cost and a funding scheme – for the next phase.

“This is not simply about moving a city to another location but about making a new capital city, a center of government that is built from scratch along with its supporting infrastructure,” he said.


Bambang said Kalimantan is the most likely location for the new capital as the island is well situated as the geographical center of both Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

Although the minster would not confirm that Palangkaraya will be the chosen location for the new capital, the city of 250,000 people ticks all the boxes. Palangkaraya still has some 2,400 square kilometers of undeveloped area – four times the area of Jakarta, or a third of the greater Jakarta area. It is also far from any major tectonic faults, coastlines or volcanoes.

Most importantly, the city’s Kahayan and Sabangau rivers may spare the new capital from a critical problem Jakarta now faces: water supply.

“Jakarta is currently far from ideal because most tap water comes from self-dug wells […] seawater intrusion is getting deeper,” Bambang said.

Choosing a city outside Java Island is the right decision, according to Indratmo Soekarno, a professor and director of the water resources development center at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

“We are only able to manage 6 percent of our total rainfall well, as most of it goes directly into the sea. A balance between the total rainfall and the need for water in Java is so critical,” Indratmo told reporters.

He added that the reliability of the water supply outside Java is very good.

Private companies specializing in this field are meanwhile lining up to lend a hand.

Giancarlo Roggiolani, general manager of Grundfos Pompa Indonesia, the local subsidiary of Danish pump manufacturer Grundfos, said the company has been helping cities with water leakage problems, which in some cases amounted to water losses of up to 70 percent.

“An ideal capital city is one that is smart in responding to current climatic conditions. […] In the face of changing weather conditions brought about by climate change, an ideal city also needs to be resilient in mitigating the potential damage extreme weather, such as flooding, can bring,” Roggiolani said.

Key Considerations

Gayatri Singh, an urban development specialist at the World Bank, said a successful relocation of the capital should consider the new city’s functions, land acquisition and long-term financial planning and commitment, to name but a few.

“Money is the key factor that greatly impacts the relocation process,” Singh said in an emailed message to the Jakarta Globe.

Andrinof Chaniago, a public policy analyst at the University of Indonesia and a former national development planning minister, estimated earlier this year that moving the capital may cost about Rp 10 trillion ($735 million) annually – or less than half a percent of Indonesia’s annual state budget – over at least 10 years.

Still, history suggests that “the most consistent lessons from new city projects around the world is that they tend to cost more than the original estimates suggest,” Singh said.

Singh said past experiences by other countries moving their capitals suggest that the time required for completion depends on political will and the absence of external shocks.

It took only 12 years for Malaysia from decision to completion to move its government center to Putrajaya. But it took almost 50 years for Australian government bodies to move to Canberra because of the Great Depression. It took 134 years for the completion of the McMillan plan for Washington, D.C., due to interruptions caused by the War of 1812.

“Finally, the physical barriers between the site of the new city and existing economic centers play a significant role,” Singh said.

Businesses are well aware of this plan but moving the capital should not become the government’s priority as it is not too urgent, said Sanny Iskandar, a seasoned businessman who is both secretary general of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) and deputy chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).

Sanny said relocating the capital should follow improvements in business permit regulations and procedures using technology and information systems. That would reduce the necessity for businesses to be physically near the regulator all the time to sort out administrative issues.

“I think this requires a long process, in which the government should begin this improvement as soon as possible,” he said.

Additional reporting by Sarah Yuniarni.