As Bali communities continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaders across the island are beginning to look ahead. With the future in mind, many leaders, emerging leaders, businesses, and communities are exploring ways to futureproof the Island of the Gods.
As leaders share their visions, some are considering areas of the island that have previously been overlooked. While Indonesia moves the country’s capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, so too are Bali leaders exploring what the future might look like for the island’s capital.
Speaking to the media, the Secretary of the DPD Hanura Party for Bali Province, Gde Wirajaya Wisna, shared his vision for developing Buleleng Regency as the next capital of Bali. This idea has been in the public consciousness for some time, though the conversation has resurfaced. Denpasar City is the capital of Bali Province and is home to the island’s most important business and administrative infrastructure.
Wisna told reporters, “Buleleng is very relevant to become the capital of Bali as when it was believed to be the capital of the Lesser Sundas during the reign of President Soekarno”. Singaraja is the capital of Buleleng Regency but would require huge amounts of investment to support the island as a capital city.
He also noted that he sees logic in putting greater focus on development in the most populous and geographically largest regency on the island. He explained that Buleleng is “Also supported by agriculture, fertile plantations…Buleleng can also create an international airport, given the vast amount of land available”.
While plans for the North Bali Airport were shelved by President Joko Widodo earlier this year, as progress was too slow, it is evident that many in Bali still want to see the project come to life. The North Bali Airport plans are still developing in the background but have been removed from the National Strategic Projects List, with no suggestion that construction would begin any time soon as the land is still yet to be acquired.
Wisna continued, “All this time, there have always been discussions about the dichotomy of development balance between South Bali and North Bali. Now, with the [idea to] relocate the capital to Buleleng, economic growth or equity in development will no longer be disputed”. He noted how industry in Buleleng already supports a huge amount of daily life in Bali, including the Celukan Bawang Port and a Fishing Port in Sangsit, as well as the Wisnu Pioneer Airport.
When asked how the transition could happen in practical terms, Wisna answered, “it can be done gradually”. He drew a comparison with other countries where the government and economic centers are in different cities.
He said, “Yes, it will be similar to IKN [State Capital]. The capital is in East Kalimantan, while the center of activity is in Jakarta. It’s the same as Australia, the capital city of [Canberra], but the center of activity is in Melbourne. US, the capital is in Washington DC, while the economic center is in New York”.
Wisnu is a key political figure in Bali as the provincial head of the DPD Hanura Party. His recent calls to reignite the conversation around moving the Bali capital have not received a direct response from Governor Wayan Koster. Any move of the Bali capital away from Denpasar would have a huge impact on the island as a whole.
In terms of the impact on tourism, a change in the location of the provincial government center may not make any immediate difference to the average holidaymaker. However, the inventible development or investment in infrastructure would almost certainly promote Buleleng as a more prominent tourism destination.
Minister for Tourism, Sandiaga Uno, has spoken openly this year about how he wanted to see lesser-visited areas of Bali promoted to more international travelers. This included many areas in Buleleng Regency, spanning the island’s North West. Key tourism destinations in Buleleng Regency, like Lovina, have been slower to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, than resort areas in the south.
Wisnu bringing the conversation to the table again has given many people food for thought as to whether moving Bali’s capital could be the answer to ongoing conundrum of how to spread economic development more evenly across the Island of the Gods.
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