JAKARTA: 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 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 stoppages include construction of Indonesia’s first light rapid transit (LRT) and parts of a mass rapid transit system.
The LRT in Palembang—which is co-hosting the Games with Jakarta—is supposed to be operating by August 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.
Widodo halted work shortly after a high-profile accident on an elevated toll road project in Jakarta left seven workers severely injured last month.
The stoppage also comes after a balcony collapse at the Jakarta Stock Exchange building this year 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.
‘Looking for compromises’
Endemic corruption, red tape, and mismanagement have left many projects mothballed or neglected for years.
But the president has made infrastructure development the centerpiece of his economic growth strategy for the vast archipelago nation.
Widodo sees the building drive as essential to improving logistics and modernizing infrastructure— and reaching his goal of seven percent annual growth, up from around five percent 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, Widodo has ordered the completion of 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) of new toll roads, 3,200 kilometers 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.