Kiki Siregar, Nusantara, Indonesia – These days, eastern Kalimantan has a new tourist attraction.
In the middle of a lush forest, a large sign says "Point Zero Nusantara". It marks the site of Indonesia's new capital city and serves as a reference point for calculating the height of the future buildings in the vicinity.
Earlier this month, Mdm Puji Astuti and a few other fellow Muslim businesswomen posed cheerfully in the scorching sun at point zero.
Mdm Astuti was keen to see the new capital site. She believes that there will be economic opportunities, but is also cautious about whether the new city would be constructed within a span of two years.
"It is all up to the central government. Don't just talk. If it must be ready in 2024, then start (building now). The year 2024 is not so far away," said Mdm Astuti who is from Balikpapan in East Kalimantan province.
For now, point zero is the only landmark in eastern Kalimantan's Nusantara that gives an indication of the location and expanse of the new capital.
There are few signs of construction and development in the area of more than 56,000 ha. Large parts of the future city are still forests used for commercial purposes, with trees such as eucalyptus and acacia being cultivated.
Less than 5 km away from point zero, a few excavators are clearing land where the future ministry of public works and public housing will be situated.
Previously, the authorities said that construction of the new capital will commence in early August and they are currently procuring the goods and services needed.
The plan is to celebrate Independence Day on Aug 17, 2024 at the new presidential palace in Nusantara.
Locals are excited by the prospects of the new capital city. However, analysts interviewed by CNA are less positive about the timeline for construction.
Budget constraints, lack of investors
The government has said that the capital city must move from Jakarta on Java island to Nusantara because the former is sinking and congested.
There is also the argument that developing a new capital city around 2,000 km away in Kalimantan would enhance economic activity and development in eastern Indonesia. The country's development has hitherto been focused on Java island.
The construction of new capital Nusantara is expected to be completed in five stages. The total construction cost is estimated to be US$31 billion.
The first phase, comprising the construction of the palace, a few ministries and basic infrastructures such as roads and housing, is scheduled for completion by 2024.
The final stage of Nusantara's construction is slated to be done by the country's centennial in 2045, with the new capital connected to surrounding cities such as Balikpapan and Samarinda.
Although the development of the new capital has yet to go into full swing, tourists have started to flock to point zero, which is open to the public on weekends and public holidays.
"I wanted to see whether the palace is already finished like in videos on Youtube. It turns out, it is not here yet, it is not ready," said Mr Imam Ghozali, 56.
He works as a teacher in Nganjuk, East Java. He was on holiday and decided to visit his son who lives in Balikpapan, around 1.5 hours away from Nusantara.
Mr Ghozali was under the impression that the state palace, known for its Garuda-inspired design, has been built. Garuda is a mythological bird that is Indonesia's emblem.
"I imagined it to be ready and majestic but there is nothing here. It is still in the planning phase. I am a bit disappointed," said Mr Ghozali.
He believes that perhaps in two years' time, the building will be visible. "Well, perhaps just the main part," he added.
Jakarta-based economist Bhima Yudhistira said it will be an uphill battle from now until 2024.
"Looking at the development of the new capital, it will be difficult even though it is just a few ministries and the state palace," Mr Yudhistira told CNA.
"Because the preparation (time period) is very tight and now it is still in the procurement stage," said the executive director of Center of Economic and Law Studies.
He also noted that the budget needed may not be available right now. Given the global situation where some countries may be heading towards a recession, he is doubtful Nusantara could attract many foreign investors.
"So far, there are no investors who are interested in directly investing in the Nusantara development process.
"So it means that it will be very difficult for this ambitious project (to be accomplished). Even to construct the palace or transfer the ministries in 2024, it seems it is not yet possible."
He also noted that some may be reluctant to invest given that President Joko Widodo's tenure would end in October 2024 and the new president could amend the law on the new capital city. "This means that this project may not continue beyond 2024," he said.
Associate Professor Sulfikar Amir from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has similar views.
He believes the new capital could become a political problem, depending on who would run in the upcoming 2024 election and eventually win the contest.
Assoc Prof Amir, who specialises in sociology, technology and science said: "I'm actually a bit sceptical. I believe it's possible that the (Independence Day) ceremony would be held there but the buildings nearby won't be ready.
"Perhaps they'll try to do it just symbolically."
There are other obstacles on the ground in Kalimantan, including land compensation.
Mdm Dewi Asnawati, 38, lives in what would be the new capital. Her house built on a 2 ha plot of land sits on the border of the central government area in Nusantara.
She said that authorities have already briefed her about the new capital and she would need to move. However, they have yet to confirm the compensation sum and where she would live in the future.
"I want to stay here ... I don't want to move far away," said Mdm Asnawati who has lived there for 16 years.
Local communities upbeat, but littering an issue at point zero
Despite the uncertainties, Mdm Asnawati is happy the country's new capital would be in her neighbourhood as she is already feeling the positive impact.
She owns a small grocery shop and has seen her income rising as more government officials and domestic tourists are visiting Nusantara.Mdm Nur Fitri Susanti, 32, is equally upbeat. The snack seller in Sepaku district of East Kalimantan, which is in the Nusantara area, is happy that people now know about her hometown and are curious about it.
"In the past few weeks, there are many tourists from other regions who wanted to go to point zero. They bought from me because there are no snack sellers there," said Mdm Susanti, who only started selling snacks when news about the new capital emerged.
She is able to earn around 600,000 rupiah (US$40) daily, above the provincial minimum wage there of about 3 million rupiah per month.
Visitors are actually not allowed to eat and drink while at point zero. When CNA visited on Jul 2, tissues, plastic bottles and plastic bags were scattered on the ground.
An official managing the area reminded visitors against littering. Some who were there like Mr Ghozali from Nganjuk were shocked to see the trash.
"I disapprove of those people's actions. At the entrance gate, we were told by the security guard not to eat.
"If we need to eat, then don't litter. But the public awareness is not so good, people need to be continuously guided," he said.
The acting district head of Sepaku, where Nusantara is located, acknowledged that littering is a problem at point zero.
"We have done several things to address this but we don't have that many officers to monitor the visitors," Mr Adi Kustaman told CNA.
There are about 2,000 to 3,000 visitors daily during the weekends, said Mr Kustaman. During public holidays, the number of tourists can even reach 5,000 per day. But there are only five officers who are keeping order at the site.
He added that there is no dedicated landfill in Nusantara and the local officials are unsure of where to dispose of the trash.
Responding to CNA's queries about waste management at point zero, Mr Sidik Pramono, the spokesperson of the communications team which oversees the relocation of the new capital, said that the situation is being monitored.
"The ministry of environment and forestry, which is in charge there, has allocated facilities to dispose of waste according to the waste classification," he said.
The spokesperson added: "Later, when Nusantara is developed, there will be a landfill allocated for waste disposal. Actually, point zero Nusantara is for geodesy but people are interested in going there to take pictures."
Geodesy refers to the study of how the Earth's geometry changes over time.
Meanwhile, the authorities have reiterated that the development of the new capital is on track.
Mr Bambang Susantono, Head of the Nusantara Capital Authority told reporters on Wednesday (Jul 20) that work related to land consolidation, land clearing and logistical access will be prepared soon.
"It is hoped that next year, we will indeed start to (build) on a full scale the infrastructure and main buildings," he said.
He added that there are plans to start a market survey in August to explore interest among parties who want to participate in the development of the new capital city.
"We are currently also preparing our brothers and sisters who are local residents in the area around Nusantara. There has been training and we have worked with those in the community ... for reskilling and upskilling. That is needed by our brothers and sisters who already live in the Nusantara area," he said.
"In essence, what we will build is not only physical buildings but also the ecosystem of a livable city. That is our target in 2024." – CNA/ks(aw)