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A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Soapbox: Publisher's Perspective | 24 September 2021

I don’t know if you are familiar with the particularly British phrase "A stitch in time saves nine" but it refers to that stupid outdated practice of repairing things as soon as they begin to show wear and fear. Catch it early enough and you’re quickly back to ‘as new’, leave it too long and often it’s irreparable and has to be replaced. What a waste of time and energy! Of course, these days manufacturers build in obsolescence into their products and you take your computer, phone, electronic device, washing machine, microwave etc into the shop and they say "sorry, out of date/stock/supply, you need to replace!".

But here in Indonesia there seems to be an increasing aversion to any form of ‘maintenance’, preferring to leave things until they break and then repair them, thinking that’s okay. It’s not. And now it applies to everything. Let me give you a few examples.

The first is the recent case of a bunch of 32 plaintiffs who sued the central and several provincial governments in order to ‘repair’ the air quality of Jakarta. Thank goodness they won the case, but why, oh, why did the collectively responsible parties leave it so long to take decisive action when there have been reports of Jakarta’s appalling air quality for years? Now they have to do the ‘nine stitches’, much harder and yes, fellow taxpayers, more expensive, never mind the damage done to babies lungs in the meantime. 

Then we have the slightly different case of sustainable tourism. The Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy has very diligently prepared ten new priority destinations and has planned them to be “sustainable destinations”. Great but what about the current top favorites with the travelling public: Bali, Lombok, Jogja, Bandung, Bintan, etc? They are actually more in need of maintenance than the new, as yet, unspoiled destinations. Once again we are leaving things to ‘break’ before we ‘repair’ them. And moving on to the “new”, which is much easier. 

Finally Indonesia was recently rejoicing in the Presidential decision to start work on the new capital city in Kalimantan. Congratulations. But what about our beloved Jakarta? It seems it doesn’t even qualify for repair, and can just be abandoned with the pretext that moving the capital will ease the pressures it is experiencing now and allow it to improve. I honestly don’t think this will happen. All the focus will go ‘where the money is’ in the new ‘green‘ capital where 250,000 pristine hectares will be chopped, ploughed and cemented into a new ‘sustainable city’. 

Sorry folks, there is nothing more sustainable then good old, untouched nature, the very thing you are replacing. Does no-one know Jonie Mitchell’s old song. "Big Yellow Taxi?" "They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum and charged us all a dollar and a half just to see them”. I am very sad that we think that Jakarta is irreparable because as soon as we say that, we will stop trying. 

Then who’s next? Surabaya? Bandung? Oh yes Bali. we can’t repair that so, we’ll start ’10 new Balis’ -not even nine stitches there.