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In the front line Halcrow's Roger Ibbotson has stayed in Jarkarta during Indonesia's recent civil unrest, despite Foreign Office efforts to persuade expatriates to leave. He spoke to NCE this week.

Roger Ibbotson is an old hand at the expatriate lifestyle, and having spent the last 14 years living and working in Jakarta he was not about to up and run at the first sign of trouble when rioting broke out two weeks ago.

'Certainly there were two of three days that you could single out as being very dangerous,' he recalls. 'And on those days we just stayed at home.'

Ibbotson is Halcrow's director for Indonesia and has lived there with his wife and now married daughter so long that he now considers it home. He says he was somewhat amused therefore that so many people - the London Halcrow office included - thought he had left the country.

'I only went off for the weekend to play tennis in the hills and everyone assumed I'd fled.'

Many expats did leave to escape the riots which broke out on the wake of anti-government protests about economic reforms. Kvrner is thought to have pulled more than 100 out last week; Ove Arup, Maunsell and Mott MacDonald all have only minimal presence having taken ex-pats out (News last week). Ibbotson says he also took the opportunity to send staff home and delay the arrival of those about to join the office.

'You can be responsible for looking after yourself in the situation but it is a completely different matter to bring in new people.' He adds that as the holder of both a British and Canadian passport his phone was continuously ringing with embassy officials trying to persuade him to leave.

'I was posted to Northern Ireland in 1969 just as the troubles started there,' says Ibbotson. 'You could say that the two and a half years I spent there were good training for Jakarta last week.'

The whole of the north side of the city is now a mess, he says - a wasteland with apartment blocks burnt out and shops looted. On the south side, where he lives, he says the damage is in isolated areas only with the electronics shops and Chinese community targeted.

Ibbotson says that although the fall of President Suharto and the subsequent political uncertainty over the last two weeks has made life more difficult, working life is starting to get back to normal.

'It is perhaps part of the culture here - people reach a point, snap and go crazy for a while. But then they get back on with life.' Planning continues on many schemes, he says, although it has been hard at times finding the right government officials to deal with.

Fortunes in the area have certainly changed over the last 12 months. The financial crisis which swept through South East Asia has cut a huge hole in areas that were booming. The tower cranes that sprang up all over the city are now gone or lie dormant. Sites that once buzzed with activity now stand deserted.

Much of the construction work now being planned focuses on so called 'make work' projects to solve the growing local unemployment problem.

'Most of the actual construction work has now ceased but we are still putting together proposals for loans for a number of big projects,' says Ibbotson. 'But it is really all pure social work - there is no new private work planned.'

There has also been an back-lash against contracts let by President Suharto and his family. Infrastructure deals such as that struck with Thames Water and many other toll road concessions have been wiped out or taken back into the public sector.

But Ibbotson anticipates that as the political situation settles down - announcement of a date for a general election is expected any moment - a growing number of World Bank and Asian Development Bank-backed jobs will kick off. His office, he predicts could easily grow from its current 10 strong to 25 within a year.

'You have got now to look at the long haul. If we were not here already I would not be advising we set up in Jakarta,' says Ibbotson. 'But as we are here I have no doubt it is still worth being here.'

Antony Oliver

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