Power-Hungry

The president announced last week that his government will spend the equivalent of US$6.1 billion on stimulus measures next year to strengthen the national economy. We hope a sizeable chunk of that significant sum will be allocated on infrastructure, including supplies of power, which are wholly inadequate.

Bali, for instance, is yet again suffering mass blackouts that last for hours. On Tuesday night this week, large areas of North Kuta were plunged into darkness for five hours from dusk. This is not a once-off occurrence; it is frequent, often occurring several times a day, a number of times a week.

If it is not electricity equipment breaking down, it is a reduction in power output from generating stations in Java that mainly supply Bali. Over the years, the inconsistency and lack of belief in the state power company PLN has led many – individuals and companies – to install their own backup generators.

That this most basic utility cannot be relied upon is an abysmal indictment of those in authority. Yes, power cuts happen the world over, and no transmission system is immune to outage, but the sheer regularity of blackouts in parts of Bali is hard to fathom.

Given that this island alone is a massive foreign-exchange revenue generator for the governments here and in Jakarta, the Bali authorities must extract an undertaking from the central government that sufficient funding for infrastructure be allocated under the stimulus spending – including for a stable supply of utilities such as electricity.

“After 11 years of reformasi, we have succeeded in building our domestic economy stronger and more self-reliant,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said last week.

Indonesia is one of the region’s fastest-growing economies – 5 percent growth is predicted by the government for 2010 – and has largely escaped the immediate effects of the global economic slowdown, but in several key areas, the country is going backwards instead of progressing. It is past time to address the fundamentals. A solid economy cannot be built upon a flimsy foundation.

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