By FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOSE C. DE VENECIA JR.
Reelected Indonesian President Joko Widodo has unveiled his administration’s plan to transfer his country’s capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, hundreds of miles northeast of Jakarta across the Java Sea.
He said the relocation would ease the burden on Jakarta and the rest of Java island, where the nation’s current capital is located, citing its immensely dense population (around 30 million), excruciating traffic jams, and air and water pollution. He also cited the need to jump-start the economy in other parts of the country.
The President said East Kalimantan was chosen for several reasons, among which is that the risk of natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and mudslides in the area is minimal.
Reports said the proposed new capital, where the Indonesian government owns some 180,000 hectares of land, is “situated in the geographical center of the Southeast Asian archipelago.”
President Widodo disclosed that moving the capital to its new location, scheduled in 2024, would cost some $32.8 billion, of which the Indonesian government would fund 19 percent, with the rest would come from public-private partnerships (PPP) and private investments.
The cost includes the construction of government offices and homes for about 1.5 million government employees.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, is not the first country in Asia, indeed in the world, to relocate its capital. In recent years, Myanmar and Kazakhstan have both transferred their capitals.
In 2005, Myanmar moved its capital to Nay Pyi Taw, some 200 miles or about 320 kilometers north of its former capital Yangon.
In 1997, the oil-rich Central Asian country Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world, shifted its capital from Almaty to Astana, which is about 1,200 kilometers north of Almaty.
We remember visiting Kazakhstan and Myanmar in the course of our engagements and initiatives in political party- and parliamentary diplomacy in our Asian region and the international community.
Our International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) held its 10th Standing Committee Meeting and 5th General Assembly in Astana in September, 2009, hosted by our good friend, then President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first president (1990-2019), and the ruling Nurotan Party, which sits in the ICAPP Standing Committee.
Also, on invitation of then President Nazarvayev and the government of Kazakhstan, we had the privilege of addressing the international conference on “From the Ban of Nuclear Tests to a World Free of Nuclear Weapons” in August, 2012; the prestigious Astana Economic Forum in May, 2011; and the XIII Congress of the NurOtan Party in February, 2011.
We in ICAPP were honoured to bestow on President Nazarbayev the “ICAPP Achievement and Service to Humanity Award” in 2011 in recognition of his outstanding leadership and achievements as president of Kazakhstan as well as for his contributions in advancing the causes of peace, security, and development in Asia and the international community.
This columnist is also happy to note, with all modesty, that President Nazarbayev and the Kazakhstan government conferred on us in December, 2011 the “Dostyk” (Friendship) Award, a state award given “to individuals for fruitful activity in the field of international and civil consensus in society and for merits and deeds in promoting peace, friendship, and cooperation between countries and peoples.”
In Myanmar, we had the privilege of conferring in September, 2012, in Yangon, with then opposition leader Aung San SuuKyi, now state counsellor, and in Nay Pyi Taw, with then Speaker ThuraShwe Mann and other political leaders of Myanmar.
Going back to the transfer of a country’s capital, we note that throughout history, some countries shifted their capital from one location to another for various reasons, among which were for purposes of peace, security, unity, and prosperity.
Among the countries in the world which also changed their capitals are Nigeria, from Lagos to Aguja in 1991; Pakistan, from Karachi to Islamabad in 1967; and Brazil, from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia in 1960.
On our part, the Philippines, we commend and support the relocation of some government offices to the 9,450-hectare New Clark City in Pampanga, a move that will not only decongest traffic and population in Metro Manila, but also make government transactions faster and more efficient.
Our Southeast Asian neighbor Malaysia transferred in 1999 its government offices to the 4,500-hectare new city, Putrajaya, which helped ease overpopulation and traffic congestion in the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Even South Korea has been shifting government offices to Sejong, some 75 miles southeast of capital Seoul, since 2012, for reasons similar to those of the countries which either transferred their capital or relocated their government offices.
Seoul is home to the Secretariat of the ICAPP, the International Conference of Asian Political Parties. As we have pointed out earlier in this column, the ICAPP is a Philippine initiative, founded and launched in Manila in September, 2000, and which now represents some 350 ruling, opposition, and independent political parties (including the Philippine political parties) from 52 countries in Asia.
We in the Philippines can learn from our Asian neighbors in our efforts to relocate our government offices to their new home in Pampanga.