Indonesia’s planned capital shift highlights foresight of Putrajaya

Putrajaya was the brainchild of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his previous stint as the prime minister. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Putrajaya was the brainchild of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his previous stint as the prime minister. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 1 — Indonesia’s bid to create a new administrative centre in East Kalimantan to relieve pressure on the country’s capital of Jakarta is fresh vindication of Malaysia’s similar creation of Putrajaya in the 1990s.

Putrajaya was derided as a waste of resources when it was first proposed at the end of the last century and critics still call it “lifeless” today, according to The Straits Times (ST).

However, former civil servants said its establishment spared Kuala Lumpur chronic traffic congestion that would have brought the nation’s capital to a halt.

“I often tell my friends when I am caught in a traffic jam in KL, God, what would it have been like if Putrajaya had not been built?” Former Finance Ministry deputy secretary-general Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam was quoted as saying.

“KL would have choked.”

On Monday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo confirmed his country will build a new administrative capital on East Kalimantan to replace Jakarta that is overcrowded, polluted and slowly sinking into the ocean.

The move will cost an estimated US$33 billion (RM138 billion) and construction is set to begin in 2024.

The still-unnamed administrative centre will house an estimated 1.5 million civil servants and is getting the same cautious reception from Indonesia’s business community as Putrajaya did in the beginning.

While shopping malls have sprouted around the area, Putrajaya remains largely devoid of other commercial activities but some, such as retired senior official Datuk Dahan Latiff said that was preferable.

“Maybe it’s a bit quiet for young people, but I’m not a man looking for nightclubs. There are cinemas and shopping complexes,” he told ST after pointing out that Putrajaya was immaculately maintained and safe.

However, others have pointed out that other administrative centres also do not feature many leisure activities beyond the basics.

Ramon said Australia’s administrative capital of Canberra was just as isolated and devoid of nightlife as Putrajaya while KRA Group analyst Amir Fareed Rahim said Washington, DC, was also quiet at night.

“Putrajaya is quieter but it has its charms. Look at the weekends. People cycle and do recreational activities,” Amir was quoted as saying.

Putrajaya was the brainchild of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his previous stint as the prime minister.

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