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International relations

Emphasis on quality holding up Japan's infrastructure aid

Construction delay in Jakarta points to need to meet local demand

Nearly finished bridge piers in Jakarta were demolished in August 2015.

TOKYO -- Japan prides itself on delivering products and services of the highest quality. But when it comes to foreign infrastructure aid, the country seems to be missing the mark.

A case in point can be seen in completion of an access road to Indonesia's busy Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, the country's largest container terminal. The project kicked off more than a decade ago, when Japan decided to loan about 53 billion yen ($479 million at current rates) in order to construct the road. Completion was scheduled for 2011, but was still under construction as of last February. 

Construction took a turn for the worse in August 2015 as the road was nearing completion. Key supports were found to be faulty due to poor materials, and local contractors, working with Japanese general contractor Kajima, were told to rebuild them. A source close to the project said the supplier of the concrete was affiliated with a Japanese firm.

The project, carried out under the special terms for economic partnership, or STEP, was already delayed, and rebuilding added to the setback. STEP is aimed at capitalizing on Japan's technology and materials.

The access road is sorely needed, as it connects Tanjung Priok Port to the eastern outskirts of Jakarta and is a key artery to the industrial district, where Toyota Motor and other Japanese manufacturers are located. A new terminal went online in the middle of 2016. But traffic on the road is horrendous.

Local road operators seem wary of acquiring the operating rights for the access road. This comes as the Japanese government is now pitching construction of a new port in the eastern outskirts of Jakarta.

Providing quality infrastructure is important, but frequent delays could be interpreted that Japan is ignoring local demand, which sometimes is not as concerned with quality as with speedy results. Some emerging countries have negative impressions of "tied" aid like STEP, saying it could hamper the growth of local companies.

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