Law, floods and power manipulation

Frans H. Winarta, Jakarta

Massive floods hit Jakarta in 2002 and five years later, on Feb. 1, 2007, severe flooding again submerged much of Jakarta, lasting for seven days. Economic and other activities were paralyzed, and the floods caused much misery for residents.

This constitutes another case in which the Indonesian government has shown itself incapable of surmounting a natural disaster. Strangely, in spite of predictions about imminent floods in January and February 2007, the Jakarta regional administration took no concrete steps to reduce the impact of the coming floods, such as river dredging, proper maintenance of drains and the development of water resorption areas. With such precautions, the adverse effects of the floods, which immobilized Jakarta for several days with trillions of rupiah lost, could have been mitigated.

In fact, floods have plagued the city for decades without any meaningful solutions. Man should be capable of controlling nature, rather than simply submitting to its wrath. The funds required are indeed huge, but they are insignificant in comparison with the trillions of rupiah embezzled.

The flood issue has been worsened by legal disobedience and weak law enforcement. The central government and the regional administration, which should be consistent in implementing urban schemes, in this case Jakarta’s city plan, have often violated the relevant laws and have fallen short of law enforcement. The rule has been laid down for real estate developers that residential and industrial zones must include public and social facilities like markets, schools, hospitals, sports grounds, parks and houses of worship, but the relevant authorities have breached the regulation. Many of the city’s parks and lakes for rainwater resorption have been converted into shopping centers.

Protests go unheeded and construction proceeds. Entrepreneurs and officials are colluding without regard to the interests, fate and safety of residents. This happens nearly everywhere, with businesspeople merely seeking profits by ignoring environmental soundness. They are trying to undertake property business without showing corporate social responsibility.

If the government strictly obliged all developers to build reservoirs or lakes to contain rainwater, severe floods could be overcome and prevented, or at least total paralysis of the city could be avoided. At the same time, funds should be sought to build circling dams on Jakarta’s outskirts, as already planned since Dutch colonial rule. Former Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin once said the central government should help Jakarta provide funds for flood control projects, including the construction of dams.

The practice of collusion between officials and entrepreneurs occurs due to their greed and disregard of social responsibility. Laws are manipulated by seeking favors from those in power. In response to protests, troops are mobilized to face demonstrators. “Security” fees keep flowing to protect entrepreneurs’ business interests.

Developers elevate the surface of the land for their projects, despite surrounding residents’ peaceful objections, resorting to physical force if necessary. Consequently, floods are worsening and more and more homes around housing, office and industrial zones are being submerged.

Worse still, property businesspeople are competing to market their products as “flood-free”. The areas free from floods are certainly their real estate zones, while nearby residents have to suffer floodwaters that reach knee, waist or chest-high, or which totally submerge their homes. But with all the surrounding districts being flooded, the raised property zones will still be inaccessible.

It is ironic that while Indonesia is free from Dutch colonialism, its people lack the freedom from worries and fears of floods in the rainy season, earthquakes, storms and traffic accidents. People who protest the construction of buildings in preserved areas are often branded as anti-development. They are harassed by security forces or by those who have commercial interests in the areas.

If we continue damaging nature, floods and other man-made disasters will continue to damage our lives.

The writer is chairman of the Indonesian Foundation for Legal Studies.

February 21, 2007