Opinion

What Jokowi needs to know
about the tunnel and MRT

Last week’s floods and the loss of lives prove that something must be done about the disaster and traffic congestion the urban populace of Jakarta face daily. The tunnel under Jakarta to alleviate flooding with an Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system to avert the projected 2016 traffic gridlock is a tremendous idea.

Jakarta needs new ideas. That’s the problem, new ideas that are underpinned by old methods and old ways of doing things that need correction.

There are two major points Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo needs to consider and deal with for any tunnel to be successful.

The naysayer’s may be laughing right now, but Jokowi has a chance to define his tenure with a great endeavor, one that could set the tone for Jakarta’s future development… or downfall. This issue simply can’t be allowed to fail. Not now.

Like Nasser’s dam over the Nile, Roosevelt’s Panama Canal, or Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge, Joko has a chance to make real history. If this is done right. It can be done right, and should be done right. So what are the things that Joko needs to do to make it happen and cement his leadership legacy?

First, Jokowi will need to knock heads and twist arms. These projects have got to through. City life for 15 million plus denizens in one of the largest megapolises on the planet hangs in the balance. It can be done, but entrenched interests need to be dealt with firmly in his capacity as governor.

This won’t be easy. The greatest projects in the world were hard won battles, not against mother nature or finance, but against human interest, greed and indifference.

Namely, any corruption needs to be dealt with squarely. Certain well placed individuals cannot be allowed to hold these projects up for self-enrichment.

Jokowi’s legacy will be cemented on how well he can deal with those that hold the key’s to success.

This first point cannot be underestimated. Confrontation is not generally in the Asian character, especially in countries where going along to get along is paramount, such as in Java.

However, this time is different. Everyone needs to pull together. Confrontation is some project phases will be unavoidable.

Already, traders in traditional markets on Jl. Fatwamati in South Jakarta do not want an overhead MRT but an underground one so as not to disturb their existing business.

If these projects are going to succeed, these individuals and interests need to be addressed immediately, with solutions that will alleviate traffic and flooding firstly.

Groups and individuals that uphold the public interest need to be bypassed or punished if they become extortionate or too recalcitrant in their positions.

This is where the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) can really do some good. It is not the direct payouts of corruption that are hindering Indonesia’s development, but the compromised gray areas and rent seeking activity that are endemic in the offices of approval.

The fact is, these offices need to facilitate Jokowi’s projects, not become roadblocks for more bureaucracy and confusion. Can they step up to this will be paramount in determining Jakarta’s success or failure in this. KPK needs to be aligned with and aware of these issues.

They can’t turn a blind eye to it, or kick the ball. The problem is that corruption will seep through a pro
ject, and undermine its benefits if not dealt with quickly.

 Even in the US, corruption severely hamstrung the “Big Dig” project under Boston harbor since 1991, taking 16 years to finish. It became a boondoggle, from initial planning bids of about US$6 billion to a final (and still rising) tab of $22 billion.

The big dig is actually similar to Jokowi’s idea: Reroute traffic underground away from the urban center to alleviate gridlocked traffic congestion. A brilliant idea, but such huge public expenditures are subject to human avarice and politics.

Historically, most large infrastructure projects are plagued by increasing costs, scheduling overruns, shoddy materials, design flaws, lack of project integration , criminal behavior and even fatalities.

It wont be any different with a Jakarta tunnel and MRT, if history is an indicator (note the unfinished pylons along Rasuna Said and Sudirman) the outcome could be even worse without tough leadership. Unlike the Boston Harbor tunnel, Jakarta does not have 16 years to wait.

Second, Jokowi needs to be very wary of any foreign aid or cooperation agencies that seek to “help” these projects. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts is the moniker.

At times, these agencies can be less about helping and more about creating long term dependence on their foreign contractors with attendant skills bases. For any cooperating agency to show its sincerity, a timeline showing a drawdown of foreign contractors and a step up of local ones is necessary.

Foreign vendors must also transfer technology and maintenance skills for these projects to localize. The Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) $1.5 billion soft loan that will finance the $1.8 billion MRT project, should be just that, a goodwill loan for Indonesia’s development.

Indonesia, with its vast coal and fossil fuel resources, theoretically does not need these soft loans, if it would channel its resources towards infrastructure spending. But it is recognized that the cooperative loans usually come with the strings attached of using the loaning entities technology in the project.

This is permissible to a point in attaining the necessary skills for operations and maintenance, but it should not be a conduit to employee Japanese contractors at full costs for the life of project.

Indonesia should not be beholden to foreign interests for into perpetuity. Skills for the operations
and maintenance of the tunnel and MRT will also create many value added jobs. In that sense, the project both at groundbreaking and comissioning can put thousands of people to work. Again, this directive must be on employing locals first and training them in relevant skills, not on keeping foreign workers and their technology in perpetual turnkey initiatives.

This bit of information is also critical should Jokowi want to reduce the fare estimate to near his Rp 10,000 (US$1.04). There are other open tenders that can be made from successful MRT vendors: Singapore, France and even China for example. In short, the project work should be split along different project phases to ensure competition and cost savings.

Near gridlock is approaching, climate changes are causing more sporadic flooding and downpours, the new governor needs to act now and in a thoughtful way. This project is simply too important to Jakarta to be held hostage to ransom or to old ways of doing things. It needs a rethink and advice.

The writer, a former Fulbright professor of energy and human resources, is chair of Global Management at Solbridge Int. school of business in Daejeon, South Korea.

Paper Edition | Page: 6

Post Your Say

Selected comments will be published in the Readers’ Forum page of our print newspaper.

From Our Networks