Indonesia’s rapid infrastructure drive takes deadly toll

  • A string of fatal accidents is threatening to derail Indonesia’s relentless infrastructure drive ahead of the Asian Games, a push seen as a key to revving up growth in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
  • President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo — who is counting on the construction advance for his 2019 re-election bid — temporarily halted all elevated transportation projects, after a dozen major accidents killed five and injured dozens more in recent months.
  • The LRT in Palembang — which is co-hosting the Games with Jakarta — is supposed to be operating by Aug 2018 when millions of visitors are expected to arrive for Asia’s premier multi-sport event, amid concerns that not all venues will be completed in time.
  • The stoppage also comes after a balcony collapse at the Jakarta Stock Exchange building in 2018 resurrected concerns about lax construction standards. “Public trust has significantly dropped — this is a crisis, a work safety emergency,” said Alvin Lie, a member of Indonesia’s National Ombudsman.
  • Endemic corruption, red tape, and mismanagement have left many projects mothballed or neglected for years. But the president has made infrastructure development the centrepiece of his economic growth strategy for the vast archipelago nation. Jokowi sees the building drive as essential to improving logistics and modernising infrastructure — and reaching his goal of 7% annual growth, up from around 5% now.
  • He regularly visits regions with projects underway, sometimes unannounced, in a not-so-subtle hint that building must stay on track for Indonesia to be a global player. “If we want to win the competition with other countries, infrastructure is what we need to do first,” Widodo said.
  • A furniture seller-turned-politician, Jokowi has ordered the completion of 1,000km of new toll roads, 3,200km of railway track, 15 new airports, two dozen seaports, 33 new dams and power plants capable of producing some 35,000 megawatts of power — enough to supply electricity to about five million people — by 2019. His plans have won applause. But there are now serious concerns that the speed and scope of some projects is leading builders to cut corners on safety, experts said.
  • But the government has now ordered that scores of major projects be re-evaluated in the wake of the accidents — a daunting task. In 2017, some 245 projects worth IDR4.2tr were on the government’s priority list, including work on a Jakarta highway that resumed several years ago after 20-year hiatus.
  • Most recent accidents were due to ill-advised shortcuts and employee fatigue, said Syarif Burhanuddin, chairman of the government-backed Construction Safety Committee.
  • The fate of Widodo’s infrastructure push — and the Games’ success — is crucial to the 2019 presidential race.

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