Fears new Jakarta rulers will go to wa­ter


Drowned out by the clam­our in April over the al­leged blas­phemy of then Jakarta gov­er­nor Ahok, who is now serv­ing a two-year jail term, was an is­sue that will pose a key test for the new gov­er­nor and his multi-mil­lion­aire deputy when they take of­fice on Mon­day.

Anies Baswedan and run­ning mate San­di­aga Uno won the Jakarta elec­tion with a cam­paign that ac­cused the Chris­tian, Chi­nese gov­er­nor of fail­ing the poor, and tac­itly played up to Is­lamist groups op­posed to a non-Mus­lim run­ning the city.

But nine days be­fore that vic­tory, the Supreme Court qui­etly handed down a rul­ing ex­pos­ing the deputy gov­er­nor-elect’s ne­glect of the city’s poor through his ma­jor­ity stake in a wa­ter com­pany. On April 10, the judges up­held a 2015 lower court rul­ing that two wa­ter con­sor­tiums that con­trolled the man­age­ment and dis­tri­bu­tion of wa­ter in the In­done­sian cap­i­tal had failed to pro­vide mil­lions of the city’s poor­est with a ba­sic hu­man right to wa­ter.

It or­dered an end to all wa­ter pri­vati­sa­tion in the cap­i­tal.

The de­ci­sion might have been a blow to the Anies-San­di­aga cam­paign, although given how marred the elec­tion was in racial and re­li­gious big­otry, it is un­likely to have al­tered the re­sult.

Cu­ri­ously how­ever, the court or­der was made public only this week, sev­eral weeks after Mr San­di­aga’s ReCap­i­tal Group said it had sold its 95 per cent stake in PT Ae­tra Air Jakarta — one of the con­sor­tiums the court has or­dered be stripped of Jakarta wa­ter con­tracts — for $117 mil­lion.

The buyer, Moya In­done­sia Hold­ings, is a lit­tle-known wa­ter com­pany owned by In­done­sian con­glom­er­ate Salim — it­self the orig­i­nal part­ner for the French firm Suez that first held one of two wa­ter con­tracts for the city. Jakarta’s other wa­ter pri­vate con­trac­tor, Pa­lyja, was sold last month.

Con­flicts of in­ter­est are hardly new in In­done­sia, given the murky nexus of busi­ness and pol­i­tics. Some of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal fig­ures are also mul­ti­mil­lion­aire busi­ness­men whose con­glom­er­ates have ben­e­fited from gov­ern­ment ac­cess.

The un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sion to pri­va­tise Jakarta’s wa­ter in 1997 was made with the same opaque crony­ism that largely char­ac­terised the Suharto regime.

The city was di­vided into two and 25-year con­tracts snapped up by Lon­don-based Thames Wa­ter and Suez, in part­ner­ship re­spec­tively with Suharto’s el­dest son Sigit Har­jo­ju­danto and Suharto crony Sudono Salim. Ten years later, Thames sold its in­ter­est to In­done­sian in­vestors, in­clud­ing Mr San­di­aga, who snapped up 95 per cent of the Thames con­tract for the east, cen­tre and parts of north Jakarta.

Crit­ics have long ar­gued the con­tracts were riven with cor­rup­tion, lacked trans­parency and pro­vided no sanc­tions for con­trac­tors fail­ing to meet tar­gets.

Yet ques­tions over whether Mr San­di­aga’s ma­jor­ity stake in PT Ae­tra pre­sented a con­flict of in­ter­est barely arose dur­ing the cam­paign. When they did, they were swot­ted away by as­sur­ances he would stay out of all man­age­ment de­ci­sions. Nor was there any clam­our for Mr San­di­aga to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for fail­ing to pro­vide a ba­sic ser­vice to al­most 40 per cent of res­i­dents in his com­pany’s half of Jakarta.

Ques­tions to Mr San­di­aga, Mr Anies and ReCap­i­tal went unan­swered yes­ter­day. But whether Mr Anies im­ple­ments the court or­der will be a test of his prom­ises to gov­ern with trans­parency and for all Jakar­tans.

Nur Hidayah, one of 12 plain­tiffs in the case against the city’s pri­vate wa­ter con­trac­tors, did not trust the gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment the or­der, “es­pe­cially one run by a busi­ness­man who thinks more about profit”.

She joined the case be­cause the ex­pen­sive and un­re­li­able ser­vice pro­vided by PT Ae­tra to her North Jakarta neigh­bour­hood reeked of dis­crim­i­na­tion. “Some­times we get run­ning wa­ter for a few hours dur­ing the night, or very early in the morn­ing, like 2am,” she said. “Wa­ter is one of our most ba­sic hu­man rights but in Jakarta it is in­ac­ces­si­ble to us poor.”

Lawyers for the plain­tiffs de­manded the new ad­min­is­tra­tion com­mit to the rul­ing by an­nounc­ing plans to move back to mu­nic­i­pal own­er­ship. Plain­tiffs fear the or­der will be caught up in le­gal wran­gling and ques­tion the terms of the sale of PT Ae­tra, a com­pany stripped of value by the Supreme Court de­ci­sion.

“We’re very sus­pi­cious as to why the rul­ing was an­nounced six months after it was is­sued and the fact both com­pa­nies were sold only so­lid­i­fies our sus­pi­cions that the pre­vi­ous own­ers knew about the de­ci­sion,” said lawyer Al­ghi­fari Aqsa. “The ques­tion now is did the new own­ers also know. If they did, then what do they have to gain with this pur­chase?”

‘Wa­ter is one of our most ba­sic hu­man rights but in Jakarta it is in­ac­ces­si­ble to us poor’ NUR HIDAYAH PLAIN­TIFF

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