Why this Indonesian property tycoon admires Singapore

Indonesia should look to its neighbor Singapore for inspiration as it attempts to tackle long-standing infrastructural problems, Indonesian property tycoon Ciputra said.

The 83-year-old billionaire, best known for the large-scale townships built by the eponymous company he founded and chairs, holds Singapore's urban-planning success in such high regard that he modeled one of his mega-projects, Ciputra World, after the Southeast Asian city-state.

"The land in Jakarta is already very expensive. With Indonesia's population reaching 250 million, we have to go high-rise so I used Singapore as my model," Ciputra told CNBC's "Managing Asia" as part of the special series "Asia Builders." "Lee Kuan Yew is also my role model since 60 years ago. I really admire Singapore."

Despite being one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Singapore prides itself for being a 'garden city' where flora and fauna is weaved into the urban fabric. The island state is ranked number one in the Green City Index for Asia.

Singapore is also the world's second-safest city, according to a ranking by the Economist's Intelligence Unit (EIU) released in January. The country is also harnessing the use of technology to make city living more connected by aiming to become a 'smart nation' within the next decade.

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In the eyes of Ciputra, these qualities make Singapore the best example of a livable city: "[A city of the future should be] like Singapore; high-tech smart city, good security and no corruption."

Indonesia also needs to emulate Singapore's competitiveness in human infrastructure, he added.

"This is what Indonesia must learn from Singapore: Be an entrepreneur city. With entrepreneurship come innovation then we can change this country. I am happy to see Indonesia moving in that direction," the businessman said.

Candra Ciputra (L) and Ciputra (R), founder and chairman of Ciputra Group.
CNBC
Candra Ciputra (L) and Ciputra (R), founder and chairman of Ciputra Group.

Indonesia's infrastructure woes

Jakarta is infamous for its traffic gridlock, which underscores the Southeast Asian country's infrastructural shortcomings. Southeast Asia's largest economy is also plagued by frequent power outages. With political instability being a key obstacle for infrastructure developments in the past, Ciputra is pinning his hopes on the country's new government headed by Joko Widodo or commonly known as Jokowi.

The former governor of Jakarta, who came into power with a mandate to reform the country late last year, hopes to build up the roads, power plants and ports the archipelago nation needs to lift growth. Under Jokowi's five-year infrastructure plan, Indonesia needs some 25 dams, 10 airports, 10 industrial parks and about 2,000 kilometers of roads.

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While Jokowi announced a record $22 billion investment in infrastructure projects in March, as part of his administration's first project, less than 2 percent had been spent as of April, according to the country's finance minister. Internal sniping in the president's cabinet, along with the size of bureaucracy and a slowing economy, are some of the stalling factors.

But the tycoon remains optimistic: "He has the political will, that is for sure, but we are still waiting for more. We understand that the economy isn't so good now but we trust him because he has, in my opinion, a very high integrity.

"We expect him to do better in the second, third or fourth year of his presidency," Ciputra told CNBC.

— Reporting by Christine Tan | Written by See Kit Tang