Jakarta: life in a city where social justice rings hollow (2)

Money matters

Unfortunately for the city’s residents, they have no say as to which developments are given the green light. Instead, it is left to the government bureaucrats to decide. They are the ones who approve or reject the investment proposals submitted by the business community. And, as we all know, the latter’s overriding concern is the bottom line. In other words, development will be driven by profit-oriented projects – like that new luxurious five-star hotel or upmarket shopping mall – rather than projects that would actually benefit the people at large. And with bribery so pervasive given civil servants’ measly salaries, it is not difficult for the businessmen to get their projects approved as long as they grease the right palms. This explains why permits are frequently given to projects that breach planning regulations. The new Plaza Semanggi shopping mall in central Jakarta, for example, somehow managed to obtain permits even though it has been built at Jakarta’s busiest traffic hub and where retail developments are clearly forbidden. This focus on the profit motive means that public planning – which is so necessary to ensure sustainable development and a livable city - is largely ignored. If a developer has the money, then virtually nowhere is out of bounds.

slums and luxury apartment buildings in Jakarta

Slums and luxury apartment buildings are often located near to each other in Jakarta

And it is not the case that people-friendly development is not taking place because of a lack of funds. Rather, the problem centers on a gross misallocation of resources. For the year of 2008, for example, the Indonesian government expects to spend some 130 trillion rupiah (around 13 billion U.S. dollars) on fuel subsidies that are largely enjoyed by the rich car owning classes. To put this in perspective, this sum is more than three times the amount that the central government has allocated for spending on education in the same year.

Moreover, these fuel subsidies do not encourage conservation of what is ultimately a scarce and non-renewable resource. And, of course, the burning of fossil fuels causes massive damage to Jakarta’s environment. Indeed, the huge numbers of gas-guzzling vehicles on the city’s increasingly congested roads are responsible for 70 percent of Jakarta’s air pollution, making it the third most polluted city in the world. In the end, Jakarta’s residents pay the price through health problems such as respiratory ailments not to mention the stress from sitting in soul-destroying traffic jams day after day. Can this really be called development?

Click here to read part three


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