Drugs, Corruption, and Failed Infrastructure Projects in Jakarta, Indonesia

Sunday morning on a tennis field, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Colleague: “Sorry for being late, we went out and had an amazing Friday night at Stadium, the DJ was totally rocking it! I got home only about 2 hours ago so go easy on me today.”

[Goes on to explain about how beautiful the girls were, how crazy the lasers were shining in his eyes among an epic decor reminding of Quentin Tarantino’s Titty Twister in From Dusk Till Dawn.]

It all made sense somehow. Except that it was Sunday morning.

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Stadium is to clubs as Tesla Motors is to electric cars. It blows your mind and other clubs will seem like Sunday Methodist schools going forward.

Formerly a brothel and gambling house, Stadium is a big, dark, and dirty club featuring four floors hosting up to 5,000 party people who party from Friday night until Sunday morning. With only 1 fire exit. That’s right, the party lasts more than an entire day and you can only pray nothing goes wrong. Besides being notorious for drugs, 24-hour partying, and the occasional death, it is also played really good music and attracted international DJs such as Green Velvet pumping “La La Land” through its impressive sound system.

Although frequently raided by the police, it is an open secret that Stadium was hosting the largest drug market in Jakarta. Sources even mention that Stadium was selling more water than beer to avoid partygoers do dehydrate and die. In sum, not exactly the place were you would drop your 16-year old for her first party.

Luckily, Indonesia, the largest Muslim country is remarkably tolerant but the party did come to an end when the Jakarta City Administration closed the club in May 2014 after a police officer overdosed.

It brings us to the next subject, corruption. Indonesians actually bribe to get into police school because being a police officer is the Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket to ride the wave of corruption. There are a lot of stories, but this video says it all.

Corruption combined with mismanagement and plain incompetence has become a bottleneck for Indonesia’s development.

Thought Bangkok is in a constant gridlock? Think again.

Let’s take a real-life example.

Me [to taxi driver]: “So tell me, how long will this take?”

Taxi driver [while shaking his head]: “Macet, macet! Mister, can take hours! Average speed in Jakarta only 10 km/hour.”

Macet means traffic jam in Bahasa Indonesian. I thought he was joking, but it was actually an understatement. It took 4 hours to drive a 30km stretch.

A short note on taxis: it is highly advisable to only take Ekspress and Blue Bird taxis in Jakarta. Many taxi drivers do not speak English, but the official language, Bahasa Indonesian can be learned easily. Some claim it’s the easiest language on earth as there are no genders, no verb conjugation, and no plural. Practically, it gets even more easy: you will see many locals point to what they need and then say, “Have!”

Indonesia is a relatively closed economy making it difficult for international firms to compete in tenders that require bribes to win projects. Sometimes a little help from an international firm would help to execute such large-scale construction projects though. Panama would have never been able to extend its Canal (and main source of income) without help of international construction firms, and hence, wisely put together a consortium for the construction of the third set of locks.

Consequently, infrastructure projects in Indonesia are mostly won by family and friends of government officials, often leading to mismanagement and abandoned construction sites across the city. One flyover aimed to decompress Jakarta’s jammed roads was tendered to two construction firms that had to deliver each half of the flyover. The two firms were building their respective parts towards each other, and when finalizing the flyover it became apparent that the two parts did not meet. The result? Another failed and abandoned infrastructure project dotting the cityscape.

Infrastructure projects in Indonesia not only fail due to corruption, they have also generally slowed down after the 1997 Asian financial crisis (see my post about the Sathorn Unique Tower in Bangkok, Thailand) and never really caught up with the rapid economic expansion Indonesia faced over the last years. Indeed, the country’ s trillion-dollar economy has been tilted towards exploiting the country’s extensive natural resources such as oil, gas, copper, tin, and gold.

The reliance on commodities and energy, hand-in-hand with Indonesia’s infrastructure deficit has slowed the creation of a more sustainable manufacturing industry. Even the fashion industry often imports its Batik shirts from India and China because Indonesia’s competitiveness is too low compared with Asian countries such as Malaysia. Moreover, foreign companies are halting the expansion of their activities in the Indonesia.

A poor infrastructure combined with the absence of proper public transport and subsidized petrol trading at less than €0.5 per liter, has made Jakarta one of the most polluted cities on earth. And it’s only getting worse as car ownership unlocks a rock star status among locals. The economic inequality is striking in Jakarta and owning a car is the most visible status symbol after a smartphone.

This has severe consequences not only on people’s health, but also on day-to-day, seemingly ordinary activities. Nobody is able to tell exactly how many people live in Jakarta today, but I have heard estimates between 30 and 35 million. And counting. Many of these people wake up at 4 AM to drive to their offices. If they leave home later, they don’t reach their offices before noon. During weekends, just as an in many Asian cities, locals spend time (window) shopping in way-to-cold air-conditioned shopping malls. Again, they can only reach the mall by car and it takes hours to get there and park your car.

Jakarta is dotted with new skycrapers serving high-income buyers, typically young, beautiful, rich, and spending their days sipping cocktails in skybars while Jakarta’s infrastructure crisis yet has to be solved. Hopefully Fast.

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