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