Capital city bill to spare Jakarta from old problems

Wilmar Salim, Manoa, Hawaii

The new bill to replace the 1999 Government of the Special Capital District Law currently being debated in the House of Representatives demonstrates how discussion on the capital city legislation is being cluttered by the issue of Jakarta as a megalopolis with its mega-problems.

We all know that Greater Jakarta has many problems. As Indonesia's capital city, Jakarta is burdened by the necessity to provide standard public services but at the same time it receives inadequate financial support from the central government.

On the other hand, the capital city is the center of state administration, making it the showcase of the nation. It is reasonable, therefore, for the central government to expect that the Jakarta administration would maintain a certain standard of public services befitting of a capital city.

Nonetheless, the discussion on Jakarta as a city with mega-problems ought to be separated from the discussion on it as the capital city. That the management of Greater Jakarta needs special attention from all need not be questioned, however, putting it into the capital city bill is not that relevant.

The capital city bill must contain provisions with regard to a space for the state administration. The main function of a state capital is as a center of administration. Therefore, space is needed for state institutions, the offices of state officials, as well as state legislators. In addition, a state capital also needs space for foreign diplomatic missions and other agencies that belong to the international community.

As a result, a state capital must also provide livable residences for those who work in this city. People who work to give services for the needs of the state administration will also reside in the city. Beyond that, a capital city also functions as the center of education and culture, hence its population will be more heterogeneous.

Provisions with regard to the space required for the above functions and the management of those areas must be stipulated in the bill. Meanwhile, all other things with regard to the management of Greater Jakarta should be discussed separately.

By separating the discussion about Jakarta as a city from the capital city bill, the central government will be able to focus its attention on other issues faced by the country. And at the same time, the Jakarta administration can focus its attention on handling the problems faced by the city.

Jakarta cannot handle its problems by itself because they are interconnected with the surrounding regions, making Jakarta and those regions interdependent. The proposal to manage Jabodetabekjur region as a spatial entity with a sole coordinator implies the centralization of local government affairs, which makes is incompatible with the regional autonomy that we want to practice right now.

Meanwhile, the Jabotabek Joint Development Board that has been in existence for more than 20 years has been unsuccessful as there has not been an equal level of interaction between the Jakarta administration and the surrounding municipal and district governments.

Inter-governmental cooperation only works when the principles of volunteerism and equality of position to achieve mutual benefit are fulfilled. We can learn from the management of Sao Paulo in Brazil where the local governments that form that megacity voluntarily joined the Sao Paulo Development Council and work together to settle their problems. This arrangement is more promising than the centralization of megapolitan management under one higher authority.

If we are sincere in looking at the problems that Jakarta faces and its status as the state capital, the proposal to relocate the capital city is a sound idea. As a nation we have to think about the need to have a capital city that is livable, comfortable, and efficient. At the moment Jakarta, with its many limitations, is not ideal as a capital city.

If Indonesia is to consider having a new capital, there are several implications of that. One thing, the governance of Jakarta will be eased since there would be no demands from the central government for the provision of public services. Besides, its own revenue may be increased as its tax-based income may rise. Furthermore, the new capital city may become a growth center that would bring about a regional balance.

However, there are some costs associated with the idea of having this new capital.

First of all is the cost of developing the new capital city and relocating all functions related to the state administration out of Jakarta.

Second, the costs related to giving up its status as the special capital district.

The idea of relocating the capital may sound unreasonable, but it's not an impossible dream. The only thing that would make this dream comes true is enormous political will from our leaders who really care about our future, not merely politicians with short-term objectives in mind.

The writer is a Ph.D candidate in urban and regional planning at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and an East-West Center Degree Fellow. He can be reached at
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