When in 2006 then vice president Jusuf Kalla kicked off the construction of the Kuala Namu International Airport in Deli Serdang regency, North Sumatra, the country’s pride was at its height as the project boasted among the first entirely “made-in-Indonesia” airports.
Hardly anyone cast any pessimism over projections that the airport would be up and running by 2009. But five years after the kick-off ceremony, progress on its completion remains unknown.
Aside from irregularities in the design and costs, lengthy land clearance is also to blame for its delay.
The project developers have had to spend month after month attempting to settle their land clearing disputes with some 35 families who owned land located around the designed runway.
While the airport construction has nearly reached completion, Kuala Namu is unlikely to go anywhere as the toll road that will connect the airport with North Sumatra’s capital of Medan, Tebing Tinggi and its vicinity has yet to start.
And the blame is assigned to lengthy land procurement processes.
The government has planned to build a 60-kilometer toll road as part of the ambitious Trans-Sumatra Toll Road project.
Since the government can only provide less than 40 percent of the Rp 4.7 trillion (US$535 million) needed to build the road, some of the financing is offered to private investors through the so-called public and private partnership scheme.
However, according to North Sumatra Planning Agency head Riadil Akhir Lubis, the project has failed to attract investors because the government has so far been unable to manage the complex process of settling land procurement issues.
Riadil said the local government, with financial support from the central government, was currently working to clear the land. “We hope to finish the land acquisition by July before opening another tender for the construction of the toll road section.”
According to Riadil, 80 percent of the land needed for the toll road construction is owned by state plantation companies PT Perkebunan Nusantara II, III and IV, while the remaining 20 percent is owned by local residents. “Taking over PTPN’s land is easy, but acquiring land that belongs to local residents is difficult because almost all of them wanted to sell their land at unreasonably high prices.”
Once completed, the airport — built to replace the existing Polonia International Airport in Medan — will have a 3,750-meter runway, 33 aprons and will be equipped to accommodate wide-body aircraft, including the Airbus A380.
Designed to service up to eight million passengers annually, Kuala Namu will be become the country’s second-largest airport after Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in west of Jakarta.
Built by 13 local construction and building consultant companies, the project was initially estimated to cost Rp 3.5 trillion, but the cost was later revised to Rp 4.4 trillion.
The project has been jointly funded by state airport management firm PT Angkasa Pura II, for the construction of the passenger terminal, cargo building, airport access road and fuel supply system, and the Transportation Ministry, for the construction of an air navigation system, runway and public utilities.
In response to the sluggish progress, four North Sumatra provincial legislators sent a letter last year to the Supreme Audit Agency, requesting an investigative audit of the project.
The legislators were suspicious that corruption might have played a role in the delay of the project’s completion. “We just wanted to make sure taxpayer money is spent properly following uncertainty over the completion date of the airport,” said legislator Rahmat Shah.
During a working visit to North Sumatra earlier this year, Transportation Minister Freddy Numberi said the airport would be operational in early 2013.
Riadil has also shared similar optimism, saying 85 percent of the project had been completed and would be completely finished by the end of next year.
“Another factor behind the delay is that the soil for the runway is too soft and needed certain technical treatment,” he said.