Roads in Mesuji: Driving or Mud Skiing?

The distance from Jakarta to Mesuji in the Lampung Province of Sumatra is a little more than 400 km away. Last month, I paid a visit to my relative for a family gathering there. Compared to other regencies in Sumatra, my fellow Indonesians in Mesuji have more to endure – they are struggling even just to go around running their daily errands. Bad road conditions are prevalent in remote areas of Indonesia, but experiencing it first-hand gives a different feeling: compassion for those who live in Mesuji. Their patience and endurance for the hell-like travel they have to experience on daily basis, as well as the fury towards the authorities’ neglect, are surely worth noticing.

Mesuji’s slogan is “Sai bumi serasan segawe,” which translates to “This area is inhabited by people who are peaceful, embrace togetherness and mutual cooperation.” These words hold true, as locals do protest and criticize local administrations for the nasty roads, but in a peaceful way.

As part of the regency’s partition policy (which is based on the Law No. 49, year 2008) the Tulang Bawang Regency was split into three new regencies in 2008: Tulang Bawang, West Tulang Bawang and Mesuji. Mardiyanto, the then-minister of internal affairs inaugurated the new regencies and appointed the city of Wiralaga Mulya as the capital of Mesuji.

Mesuji covers an area of 2,184 square kilometres, with more than 215,000 inhabitants. It consists of seven districts and 75 villages.

Like rural areas in Indonesia, Mesuji farmers grow rice, corn, cassava, beans and plant rubber, coffee, coconut and pepper, among others. Cows, buffalo, goats, pigs and chickens are easily raised due to an abundance of animal feed. We can even find industries of hide processing, pottery, wood furniture and mat plaiting. However, the farmers and merchants are hampered in their business because of poor infrastructure, mainly the roads. Efficient transportation is critically needed to harvest and market products, go to school and take the sick to hospital.

One citizen in the Simpang Pematang District, who was reluctant to be named, admitted that he was unhappy with the region’s road development. The man says, “The overall development, especially road infrastructure in Mesuji, is sluggish and unsatisfying compared to other newly established regencies like West Tulang Bawang or Pesawaran. The new offices of those regencies are already utilized, while in Mesuji, it will be God knows when. The most embarrassing of all is the road in front of the Mesuji Regent’s office, which can’t properly be called a road.”

Another citizen, Anisha, a housewife and vegetable grower in East Mesuji, complained that the wrecked roads make it more difficult to take her produce to the Tanjung Menang Market, located 20 kilometres away from her house. On rainy days, she has to let her harvest rot because there is no way to go to the market. She says:

“On sunny days, I can reach the market in two hours. The enemy is the dust. On rainy days, sometimes it takes four hours. But more often than not, I must cancel my trip to the market altogether because drivers are reluctant to go. This situation is very harmful for my income, and groceries become more expensive here than in other areas.”

When asked whether there was often renovation on the roads, she admitted that there were several repairs, but it doesn’t take long before the roads return to their previous condition.

The damage, with potholes as deep as 40 centimetres, is so bad that even motorbikes struggle to pass and are prone to accidents. People towing trapped vehicles are daily scenes, especially during the wet season.

Usman, a teacher in Simpang Pematang, describes the roads as “more like buffalo wallows than roads.” There is no choice for him but to wobble by motorbike to his school every day. Harsh critiques and complaints come from all walks of society, but apparently, there has been no action taken by stakeholders so far.

Driving in Mesuji is a constant battle between life and death, when the only smooth asphalt road in Mesuji is Sumatra’s Eastern Highway in Way Serdang District.

I called the Mesuji Regent’s office, but nobody was willing to give a statement about the much complained about infrastructure.

Hendro Yahman, chairman of Febrina Lesisie Tantina’s campaign success team, states that Tantina will prioritize the first two years of her administration to rehabilitating infrastructure, especially roads and the local health sector if she wins. Tantina is running for the Mesuji Regent election with Adam Ishak as her running mate.

“It is time to transfer the baton of the Mesuji administration to the new conductor for improvement. Five years is enough to show your work if you really work,” said Yahman, commenting on the other candidate.

Khamamik, the incumbent regent who is now on a leave for his re-election campaign, admitted in a media conference that infrastructure in Mesuji has been lagging during his administration. He argues that unstable land conditions cause asphalt to last only a few days. Roads become muddy and damaged soon after. He added that rehabilitated roads are traversed by heavy vehicles carrying coconut palm harvests on a daily basis and no tonnage restriction has yet been implemented.

Both teams make typical promises of building better roads in Mesuji for the people, but only time will tell.

One hundred and one areas in Indonesia will run simultaneous elections in February of 2017. In Mesuji, the two candidate pairs vying to lead are Febrina Lesisie Tantina and Adam Ishak challenged by the incumbent regent Khamami and Saply.

Ahmad Lutfi, lecturer in the Faculty of State Administration at the University of Indonesia, says that establishing new local administrations, be they provinces or regencies, should be based on the capabilities and readiness of, among others, finance and human resources. More than half of the new administrations can be considered successful, in which the new local governments are as effective as or even more than the parent administration.

Success stories normally happen in the western part of Indonesia, so Mesuji is an exception. With regard to horrific infrastructure woes plaguing the area, Lutfi suggests that even the Lampung Governor or House of Representatives take a closer look and get involved.

 

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