The infrastructure challenges facing the country become clear when travelling around it: highways between major cities cut through markets where traders spill onto the road, snarling traffic. Local fruit is often more expensive than that imported from China because of the costs of shipping to the capital from the regions. Cement costs 10 times more on outer islands than in Jakarta once it has made its way through the antiquated port system.
The challenges are especially apparent in Jakarta. As the middle class has grown, so has car and motorbike ownership. But unlike in neighboring Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the city has failed to build decent public transport. As a result, commutes of 6 kilometers (miles) often take upward of 1 ½ hours.
Construction of the west Jakarta section of the ring road was supposed to finish at the end of 2012, but securing the land from locals in its path has been especially torturous. As elsewhere, speculators — often working in league with government officials — bought up the land and have essentially set their price for the project to continue.
The cemetery was public land before locals started burying their dead there more than 20 years ago. Authorities have offered at least three alternative locations, but they have been rejected. Yaman, who goes by a single name, insists that he and the villagers he represents don't want money to solve the problem. When out of earshot of Yaman, one villager suggested they were waiting for a payout in exchange for the right to dig up their dead. Authorities in charge of buying the land on behalf of government declined repeated attempts for comment.
A new land law that aimed at removing these obstacles stipulates that negotiations must be completed in three months and gives the government greater authority. It has been praised as giving more certainty to investors seeking to partner with the government in large projects. Still, it doesn't apply to projects started before 2014 and, as ever in Indonesia, how it is implemented will be crucial.
Jakarta's port, built in 1877 by the country's Dutch colonial rulers, is a symbol of how the country is growing — and what it needs to do to catch up with the rest of Asia. Handling almost 65 percent of the country's imports and exports, traffic has grown by 25 percent a year since 2009.
Construction work began two months ago on a $4.5 billion expansion that would double its capacity. Yet there are currently no plans to upgrade or build new road or rail links to and from the port, which is surrounded by urban sprawl and crammed with traffic.
"We can't wait 15 years to develop a new port, with the growth we have now we need to build today," said Richard Lino, head of the state-run corporation managing the port. "So I'm doing my part first and will then say, do you want to join with the trend. "
Customs clearance is currently more than 6 days, twice as long as in Kuala Lumpur, adding to business costs and clogging up the port further. "We are still fighting with the customs," said Lino. "Everyone knows what they are like."
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