Nivell Rayda, Jakarta – Planted on the ground near its main gate was a recent addition to the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Park): a sign which says that the recreational area is under the control and management of the Indonesian State Secretariat Ministry.
The sign was put up last week, staff at the park told CNA. That same day, the government announced that it was taking over management of the park from a foundation linked to the country's former strongman Soeharto.
The 146ha park was built using taxpayers' money. However, for the last 44 years it has been managed by the Harapan Kita Foundation, now chaired by the late president's eldest daughter Siti Hardijanti, known popularly as Tutut Soeharto. Several members of the Soeharto family also serve in the foundation's executive and advisory boards.
The government said during its time under Harapan Kita management, TMII has failed to provide any "contribution to state finances" despite sitting on government land. Various stakeholders, the government added, have recommended the takeover.
On Mar 31, President Joko Widodo annulled the 1977 decree issued by Soeharto, which granted Harapan Kita Foundation, then chaired by Soeharto's wife Siti Hartinah, full control over the management of the park.
The late first lady, known popularly as Tien Soeharto, initiated the construction of the park which features pavilions highlighting traditional architecture, customary artefacts and handicrafts from different Indonesian provinces as well as various museums.
State Secretariat Minister Pratikno, who like many Indonesians goes with one name, said the government would retain the original concept of TMII – a place to showcase Indonesia's diverse cultures and traditions.
The president's chief of staff Moeldoko, meanwhile, told local media on Monday (Apr 12) that the government hoped the park would be much more than a place for provinces to display artefacts, arts and crafts.
"We will start by making various provincial pavilions as a place where social, cultural and technological innovators can gather and therefore provide a common space for technological enthusiasts," he said during a visit to TMII.
Mr Moeldoko, who also goes with one name, said he envisioned the TMII as "a place where innovators can conduct studies, research and develop Indonesia's rich cultural heritage" as well as a place where people can learn traditional arts and crafts.
"We are giving these innovators the freedom to create anything they like," he added.
Meanwhile, activists applauded the government's move to regain control over the park and hoped that it would inject momentum into government efforts to retake control over other state assets that have fallen into the hands of individuals, private companies and foundations.
In need of upgrading
The TMII appeared empty when CNA visited on Wednesday, with hardly any car or people in the vast complex.
"Even before the pandemic, things have been quiet, especially at the provincial pavilions. Now, hardly anyone comes, even on weekends," said Mdm Rosita Dewi, a souvenir vendor at the West Sumatra provincial pavilion.
The West Sumatra pavilion, which features the traditional spired roof house of the Minangkabau people, is one of the better-maintained facilities at TMII. It is also one of the favourites among visitors, Mdm Dewi said, because the pavilion regularly hosts traditional ceremonies and events.
"The other pavilions are even quieter. So quiet that vendors like me wouldn't think about setting up shop there," she told CNA.
The pavilions were designed, built and managed by their respective provincial governments. They vary greatly in layout, design and quality.
Some provinces chose to stay true to tradition, adorning the houses with intricate carvings and details the way they were done for centuries. Other provinces built concrete structures that resemble the real thing.
The traditional houses at some pavilions appeared to be in need of restoration, with parts of their ceilings and woven bamboo cladding in disrepair.
The park is also home to museums like the telecommunications museum which is temporarily closed. The building has peeling paint and a slightly unkempt lawn.
Mr Pratikno, the state secretariat minister, said last week that the government wants to revamp the park.
"We remain committed that the area will preserve and develop the nation's culture," he said. "(TMII) needs to be optimised. It will be a cultural theme park with international standards, which we hope can become a window for Indonesia in the eyes of the international community."
TMII spokesman Adi Widodo said the park welcomed the takeover and the government's promise to revamp the aging complex. "We hope after the government takeover, TMII will flourish and we will be able to compete with newer recreational areas," he told CNA.
Harapan Kita Foundation said it respected the government's decision to take over control of the park.
"We will cooperate as best as we can and accept with open arms the execution of this presidential decree to smoothen the transition process which we will embark together," the foundation's secretary Tria Sasangka Putra told a press conference on Apr 11.
Takeover is long overdue, says activist
According to historians, Mdm Tien Soeharto was believed to have been inspired to build TMII after a trip to Disneyland and a similar theme park in Thailand.
But the project met with resistance from locals who stood to lose their land, and student activists who felt that the price tag, estimated at around US$100 million in the 1970s, was too lofty.
Despite the resistance, construction began in June 1972 and TMII was opened in April 1975. There was a brief period when TMII was managed by the state before Soeharto decreed that his wife's foundation, Harapan Kita, would manage the park.
"There have been many cases of state assets being managed by foundations and companies with ties to Soeharto and his cronies. However, Soeharto was so powerful at the time, no one dared to stop these practices from happening," Mr Adnan Topan Husodo, chairman of think tank Indonesian Corruption Watch, told CNA.
"This takeover is long overdue. This takeover should serve as a momentum for the government to retake control over other state assets which have fallen in the hands of individuals, private companies and foundations."
Mr Putra, Harapan Kita's secretary, denied any irregularities in naming the foundation as the caretaker of TMII, despite its obvious ties to the Soeharto family.
"Soeharto and TMII initiator Tien Soeharto did not intend to run TMII on their own," he told the Apr 11 press conference. "Harapan Kita Foundation was involved because of a recommendation by parliament to alleviate the burden on state coffers (to finance TMII's operational costs)."
At the same press conference, TMII president director Achmad Tanribali Lamo denied the government's claims that the park has failed to contribute to state finances under Harapan Kita management.
"We always carry out our obligations, be it royalties, property tax, income tax and so on. We are one of the biggest taxpayers in East Jakarta. We pay 9.8 billion (rupiah, US$671,000) in entertainment tax alone (every year)," Mr Lamo said.
Ongoing legal case
The cultural park is not the only Soeharto-linked attraction that is undergoing changes.
Around the same time as the government takeover of TMII, a Singapore-based company Mitora Pte Ltd launched a lawsuit against five of Soeharto's six children and another foundation with ties to the family, the Purna Bhakti Pertiwi Foundation.
The lawsuit, lodged on Mar 8, is now being heard by the South Jakarta District Court.
According to the court's website, the company is demanding 584 billion rupiah in "unpaid obligations and immaterial damages".
The company is also seeking to take control of the Purna Bhakti Pertiwi Museum, a house called Puri Jati Ayu at the back of the museum and another house in downtown Jakarta.
Although the 20ha Purna Bhakti Pertiwi Museum – which houses Soeharto's personal collections – and TMII sit next to each other, they are not part of the same complex and have separate management.
It is not clear why Mitora is seeking compensation from Soeharto's five children and how the company is linked to the defendants.
In 2018, Mitora launched a similar lawsuit against Soeharto's children, both the Harapan Kita and Purna Bhakti Pertiwi foundations, the state secretariat and TMII management. The company at the time sought 1.1 trillion rupiah in damages but the case was later dropped.
For the 2021 case, the plaintiff and the defendants were supposed to meet in court on Tuesday but the defendants did not show up. The trial was adjourned and scheduled to resume on May 4.
CNA has sought further information from Mitora's lawyers and Purna Bhakti Pertiwi Foundation about the lawsuit.Mr Moeldoko, the presidential chief of staff, said on Monday that the government was monitoring the case closely but maintained that its outcome would not affect the TMII takeover. (CNA/ni)
– Additional reporting by Kiki Siregar