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East Indonesia development a challenge & opportunity for future leaders

Some analysts have said the current Indonesian government is not maximising South Sulawesi province's role in serving as an eastern gateway. It is an issue posing both challenges and opportunities for the country's future leadership.

SOUTH SULAWESI: Makassar is one of the fastest growing cities in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi and is considered the sea trade and airline hub to Indonesia's eastern islands.

But despite its economic growth potential, some analysts said the current government is not maximising the province's role in serving as an eastern gateway.

It is an issue posing both challenges and opportunities for the country's future leadership.

State-owned port operator Pelindo IV has been expanding the Makassar New Port in South Sulawesi in a bid to meet the surge in container traffic in eastern Indonesia in the future.

Authorities want to make this port a hub for distributing goods in Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua.

It aims to support the government's economic development plans, but some said more infrastructure needs to be built first.

Zulkarnaen Arief, chairman of South Sulawesi Chamber of Commerce, said: "In Thailand and Malaysia, there's a seaport available not more than 100 kilometres apart. So the transport of goods between countries or provinces is closely connected. Meanwhile we have a port available for every 900 kilometres of shoreline. This makes it harder for us to develop Papua."

In 2011, the government launched an economic development expansion and acceleration master plan to narrow the development gap in the regions and reduce unemployment.

But despite the programme being dubbed as "development for all", some analysts argued it is still western Indonesia-centric.

The largest investments in the master plan are still focused on Java. Java gets US$23 billion while Sulawesi receives just US$2 billion in development funds.

According to a local political analyst, the government's master plan for economic growth acceleration allocates a majority of its budget to help further develop regions in western Indonesia.

Not enough is being allocated to develop regions in eastern Indonesia. This perceived inequality and discrimination could trigger future social conflicts.

Aswar Hasan, political analyst at Hassanudin University, said: "If it doesn't receive the adequate attention by the president and vice president-elect, then Indonesia will always remain underdeveloped and that could turn into problems including the threat of disintegration and possible conflicts due to economic injustice."

Presidential candidate Joko Widodo plans to build the so-called "Sea Toll Road", a programme meant to dispatch large ships to carry goods to the whole of Indonesia.

While some have praised his intention to narrow the economic gap, others said the plan is economically infeasible as it will not reduce the price of transporting goods.

Besides tackling that problem, South Sulawesi's governor also wants the new government to take a hands-on approach to infrastructure projects and determine how they will be funded.

Syahrul Yasin Limpo said: "The central government should come down to the regions and monitor which projects should get priority. If the funds are unavailable they have to quickly decide to turn to state-owned companies, the private sector or foreign investment for funding. It needs to be resolved soon.”

At least 259 infrastructure projects, worth more than US$66 billion, have begun construction.

The projects can help whoever is elected president in October to bridge the gap between east and west Indonesia. 

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