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Jokowi is not messiah, Jakartans must save their own city

Publication Date : 31-10-2012


Okay, we get it. Jakartans are smitten with their new governor. Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, is convivial and down-to-earth, the kind of leader who is loved by his people for his common touch.

He has been in the news for months, which is quite understandable. It has been a while since the last time the capital saw a leader who is as sympathetic and eccentric as the former Surakarta mayor. Everything he does seems to be unusual, unique and in the eyes of journalists, newsworthy.

It is perhaps interesting to know what the governor will wear to work today or what he thinks of Guns N' Roses. But, alas, there is no time to prolong his honeymoon period. There is a lot to be done for Jakarta.

It is premature to expect immediate results from Jokowi. It has only been two weeks, but it is high time for the public to set aside their infatuation for the new governor, and begin scrutinising what the man in charge is doing and is planning to do to make the Big Durian a more liveable place.

The governor has a lot of plans. He said he wanted to revive the abandoned monorail project, build low-cost apartments for squatters currently living on the city's grimy riverbanks, construct an arts centre not inferior to the Esplanade, and erect decent buildings for street vendors.

He also plans to rejuvenate the city's nondescript public vehicles, like the Metromini and the Kopaja. In the next days, the administration will begin doling out monthly allowances — in a programme called "smart cards" — to students from the low-income families to support their education. This programme has been a success in Surakarta and Jokowi wants to replicate it here.

That sounds great. But can he do it? If he can, how will he do it?

This is not the time to be cynical and reactionary. We know that Jokowi has inspired many a citizen who wants Jakarta to change, and who came to the polling stations on September 20 to make it a reality. But this is by no means a pretext to be less critical of him or even treat him like a messianic figure whose deeds, no matter how incomprehensible they are, will save us all.

His plan to build a monorail system, for example, should be scrutinised. Is the monorail the right solution to Jakarta's chronic traffic woes?

In Australia, the New South Wales government announced earlier this year that it would scrap Sydney's monorail as it could no longer rationalise its costly upgrades.

In Malaysia, the government had to buy KL Infra, which operated the monorail in Kuala Lumpur, when it declared bankruptcy in 2007.

Can Jakarta afford to have a monorail and the Mass Rapid Transportation (MRT) constructed at the same time? Is it possible for the private sector to operate the monorail without government subsidy? Is it possible to build the MRT without foreign loans?

The governor vowed to cut spending and focus on projects that would benefit the people the most. But he has also pledged to build new public utilities that will drain the city’s coffers.

Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama surprisingly said he planned to build flyovers and underpasses for every railway crossing in the capital.

According to the Public Works Ministry, the project alone may cost 2.8 trillion rupiah (US$246 million) or 6.8 per cent of Jakarta's budget for 2012.

How can Jokowi keep his promise to build costly infrastructure while striving to spend much less public money than the previous administration? This year's budget is 41.3 trillion rupiah, up from 31 trillion rupiah last year. Jokowi said next year's budget would be lower than this year's.

I am not saying that Jokowi will be unable to fulfil his pledges. He is known to be a clean official who managed to make several breakthroughs during his six-year term as Surakarta mayor, an achievement that gave him the honour to represent the country in a competition to find the world's best mayor.

If corruption is the only thing that stalls development in the capital, Jokowi has the chance to prove the sceptics wrong. But he won't be able to do it alone, given the great challenges he is facing to fix Jakarta.

Unlike his predecessor, Fauzi Bowo, Jokowi is not "an expert on Jakarta". What sets him apart from the other mayors and governors is his willingness to listen and to engage the public in devising his policies. In short, Jokowi's style of leadership allows and requires greater public participation to work.

The power of social media that helped Jokowi win the election should therefore go beyond defending him against the onslaught of reactionaries in the City Council or within the bureaucracy.

The fact that Jokowi is open to dialogue and criticism is the reason why being critical of him is a prerequisite for him to succeed in carrying through his tough mission as Jakarta leader.

Urban activists have long complained about how they have been sidelined in developing Jakarta. Now is the time for Jakartans to get more involved by ensuring that Jokowi will not be just another politician trying to make money for himself or his political party.

Now is the time when being critical matters.

Jokowi is neither the Messiah nor an expert on Jakarta. The future of the Big Durian is in the hands of its own inhabitants.

The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.


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