“Jokowi’s Rush to Deliver Infrastructure Projects may Result in Low-quality Products” by Charlotte Setijadi

2018/27, 16 March 2018

President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo is under pressure to deliver promised infrastructure projects ahead of the 2019 legislative and presidential elections.  Since 2014, Jokowi has promised to accelerate major projects such as 1,000 kilometres of new toll roads, 3,200 kilometres of railway track, 15 new airports, two dozen seaports, 33 new dams, and power plants capable of producing 35,000 megawatts (MW) of power by 2019. However, the delivery of projects has been alarmingly slow. Recently, the government had to admit that only 3.8% of its ambitious 35,000 MW electricity procurement program, launched in May 2015, had been achieved; apparently the State Electricity Company (PLN) had faced financial issues.

This poor record will provide ample ammunition for Jokowi’s political opponents to criticise him. Jokowi can be expected to try to deliver as many infrastructure projects as possible this year.

In February, the government announced that construction for the much-delayed Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail will finally begin in May. A political hot potato since late 2015 when Indonesia awarded the building contract to China instead of Japan following an opaque tender process, progress has been hampered by land release issues. Project completion date has been pushed back to 2020 from the initial 2019 target. Minister of State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) Rini Soemarno and Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi reported that 54% of land needed for the project has now been released. The first US$500 million loan from China Development Bank will become available in March, allowing construction to begin.

However, analysts worry that rushed projects will be of low quality and dangerous for both workplace and public safety. Since 2017 alone, there have been 12 construction incidents. The recent collapse of a fly-over pile on the newly-opened Becakayu toll road amply illustrated this. Immediately after this accident, the Public Works and Housing Ministry suspended all elevated construction projects and ordered a safety evaluation before the projects could recommence. The suspension has since been lifted, and a number of projects, such as the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in Palembang, are back to being rushed through for completion before the August opening of the Asian Games in Palembang and Jakarta. However, as of March, the LRT project is only around 80% complete. The targeted June completion date has raised concerns about its quality and safety.

Poor-quality infrastructure projects can hurt Jokowi’s credibility in the long run. For the present, however, the main concern is to secure the 2019 election.

Dr Charlotte Setijadi is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.