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Jakarta Bay reclamation project officially resurfaces

A moratorium on the controversial reclamation development off the coast of Jakarta has been lifted by the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs

Indonesia’s Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister, Luhut Penjaitan, has officially lifted a moratorium (temporary ban) on development of the controversial Jakarta Bay reclamation project. The decision puts an end to a construction ban issued in April 2016 by the same ministry. Developers are now free to proceed with the development of the 17 artificial islands off the north Jakarta coastline.

What is the Jakarta Bay reclamation project?

The reclamation project, also known as the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development (NCICD) is an ambitious infrastructural development situated in Jakarta Bay. An array of aims is pursued under the plans, including tackling land subsidence (the sinking of land), providing coastal protection, improving water supply and sewage infrastructure and developing space for industry and real estate. Land subsidence and coastal flooding are huge problems for the city, which experiences major disruption every year due to flooding in its northern districts.

The project involves the development of a giant sea wall, behind which 17 artificial islands are being constructed through private investors. These islands will be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from heavy industry and real estate to leisure and amusement venues. The islands will be linked by a series of highways, which are also aimed at alleviating congestion issues in Jakarta’s jam-packed northern districts.

These islands are considered necessary in order to create the added value required to offset the huge cost of the project. The sale of real estate, in the form of the actual islands themselves, as well as office and apartment developments, is a major component in the project’s funding strategy.

Who’s behind the sea wall?

The NCICD is a public-private partnership initiative, primarily between the government of the Republic of Indonesia and the private sector. However, as of 2016 the project became a trilateral one, with an agreement being signed between Indonesia, the Netherlands and South Korea for cooperation on project implementation.

The Dutch have been involved since the outset, with the Dutch government providing significant financing for planning and implementation. A coalition of Dutch businesses was prominent in the planning stage, and many Dutch firms are now benefiting with contracts or tenders during the construction phase. The implementation of the project is estimated to cost up to $40 billion, with net profit hoped to amount to over $3 billion.

Fishy business

Despite its lofty goals, the project has encountered serious opposition from civil society groups and resident fisher folk populations. The fishing communities that line the northern Jakarta shoreline face a complete destruction of their fishing grounds. Many have already experienced this. As early as 2013, communities near to initial construction sites reported disastrous declines in catch, causing severe implications for immediate food and nutritional security. This in turn had repercussions for education and healthcare levels, the funding of which relied on income from fishing activities.

Opponents have become particularly embittered by the absence of prior consultation on the matter, and the non-existent or inadequate provision of compensation. These are not insignificant populations, after all, with around ten thousand people estimated to be employed in the fishing sector in Jakarta, not to mention the number of people dependent upon them. Activists accuse the governments and corporations involved of engineering private profit creation under the guise of sustainable development.

A coalition of Dutch civil society organisations has criticised the Dutch government for providing support for these investments without the same rigorous standards that would have to be applied in the Netherlands. Adequate consultation, democratic and transparent decision-making and comprehensive compensation are all aspects that have been absent from the Dutch supported project.

In addition, a number of experts challenge the extent to which the project will actually address any of the major issues it sets out to, with some even predicting increased flooding and subsistence as a result.

Moratorium no more

The lifting of the moratorium means that the developers of the various islands can restart their construction activities, although reports suggest that some had continued to operate anyway. The announcement comes despite consistent public opposition from a large civil society coalition, as well as concerns from other relevant ministries in the complex Indonesian bureaucracy.

The incoming Governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan, pledged a cancellation of the NCICD during his campaign, in view of popular opposition to the project. Whether he is serious or not remains to be seen. Many local fisher folk retain little optimism, having seen a revolving door of vote-seeking politicians make promises that disappeared post-election. Indeed, the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Panjaitan has announced that the Governor doesn’t even have the power to make such a move, as the control over the project lies with the central government.

It remains to be seen what will become of the hugely ambitious development, but for now the constructors can officially make a return to Jakarta’s waters. Meanwhile, thousands of fisher folk must scramble to piece together a livelihood, which just like the waters that they once fished, face an ever murkier future.

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