There’s a reason that hermits head to the mountains. Something about the height, the space, the scale allows you to really get some thinking done.

That’s certainly the case in Bandung, a mountainous city that’s thinking of its future. “People love to study in Bandung,” says Pak Ridwan Kamil, City Mayor, as he cuts into his dessert. Bandung is an academic and creative hub, hosting over 50 universities and colleges.

We’re in a relaxed hotel on a Sunday afternoon, but the Mayor is grabbing a meal between meetings. He has been pushing through an ambitious budget that overhauls the structure of government; puts technology at the heart of his plans; and uses Bandung’s brainy background to its full potential.

Changing the civil service

mayor of bandung 1 The Mayor has two broad goals for his government. First, he wants to boost the speed of public service delivery. “We have to be faster in servicing the public,” he says. Second, he wants to make Bandung more competitive – both compared to other Indonesian cities, but also in the broader region. “Bandung wants to be a world-class city, so we have to understand and respond to the economic community.”

Key to his plan is a new, more efficient structure for the government. The Mayor has set up new departments and totally eliminated others. “Bureaucracy must adjust, adapt to be more slimmer, effective and smarter,” he says. For instance, he has merged the city parks departments, and set up a dedicated unit to tackle poverty.

Issues of poverty cut across multiple departmental domains, he notes, so they require a centralised unit to coordinate change. Meanwhile, he has set up new creative economy and design departments, which he believes are Bandung’s strength. “We don’t have natural resources, we don’t have energy resources; what we have is human capital resources,” he says.

The Mayor is also trying to cut silos and improve cooperation among departments. He addresses this in his Monday meetings, where he listens to department heads’ feedback. “That’s the time I fix the relationship between each department, so on a weekly basis this creates very strong coordination,” he explains.


“We have to be faster in servicing the public.”

Building digital skills

The Mayor wants a talented, efficient and transparent workforce to run these departments. “We are also more professional, which means we will add more smart people to join the organisation using the government employee scheme,” he says.

He sends officials on overseas study trips as a way of rewarding good performance. “The good and productive bureaucrats, we give rewards,” he says. For instance, he has sent officials to be trained by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. Some have gone further out. “I send them to South Korea, I send them to Portland, Oregon for opportunity-building,” the Mayor says.

As with other dynamic Mayors, such as the Governor of Jakarta and the Mayor of Surabaya, Kamil has a no-tolerance policy for poor performance. The Mayor has set strict criteria for the civil service, and fires those who let him down. “The ones who cannot meet the standards and produce a very slow government, I dismiss,” he says. “And if they are corrupt, we fire [them],” he adds. He recently fired 12 officials who were “proven to be corrupt”, he says.

Going digital

Kamil is a strong advocate of digital technology in the government. He believes this is key because of the widespread use of internet in Bandung, which intends to be Indonesia’s Silicon Valley.

The Mayor invited external consultants to build a smart city platform, combining data from across the city, and he will continue to focus on this area.

Bandung also focuses on digital engagement with citizens, prioritising feedback and transparency. “I am a Mayor who can easily ask help from people, because the trust is very high,” he says. The Mayor is also an avid social media user, with a particular focus on Instagram. Pak Ridwan personally has 5.9m Instagram followers, he notes, with a city population of 2.4m.

Selamat berhari Minggu. Jangan lupa bahagia dan minum A… biar fokeus. foto @qka.attamimi

A post shared by Ridwan Kamil (@ridwankamil) on

Many Bandung civil servants are not tech-savvy, he says, so Kamil has evangelised these skills. During his first week as Mayor in 2013, only 10% of civil servants understood what Twitter was, says the social media-savvy Mayor. “Now 100% use it because I pushed,” he says.

Kamil has also reached out to the city’s universities for help. As home to one of the best-ranked and the oldest universities in the country, the Bandung Institute of Technology, there is great potential to do more. Students of these universities should be helping to build government technology services, he believes, and Kamil wants to provide opportunities for them to do so. Already, Bandung has 400 public apps, with the majority built locally.

Decentralising power

As part of his drive to make things move faster, the Mayor has given more authority to local districts. “I have decentralised my power to local districts so that service to public is faster,” he says. If all decisions are made by one person – the Mayor – it would be too slow, he adds.

This decentralisation makes Bandung stand out. Typically, Indonesian mayors make 70% of the decisions on their own, while for the rest they consult a senior figure, he says. The Mayor wants to make Bandung more collaborative and creative. “I translate this decentralisation to be more innovative,” he says.

By devolving power, it has become tougher to enforce the law, he admits. “Creating an obedience culture to the law is one of my challenges,” Kamil admits. “50% of the problem in Bandung is the mindset of people not obeying the law,” he adds.

For this, the Mayor looks to Singapore for inspiration. “Bandung is designed to be as competitive as Singapore, as modern as Singapore,” he says. However, it will retain its “strong traditions as Bali. A combination of Bali and Singapore – that will be my Bandung vision.” The Mayor used to live in Singapore, he notes, studying at the National University of Singapore and staying near Kent Ridge.


“A combination of Bali and Singapore – that will be my Bandung vision.”

He also looks to Kyoto City in Japan for inspiration. It infuses tradition into its modern city planning, and that’s what he wants Bandung to be. “That’s why I love Kyoto, because it’s a perfect combination of tradition and modernity. Any city that produce these two values, that must be a very interesting city,” he says. As an architect by training, the Mayor is hands-on when it comes to city planning.

Ultimately, Kamil’s goal is not defined by infrastructure or technology, however. He measures his success in happiness. By 2020, Bandung will be a happy city where people live balanced lives, he says. “I think they will see Bandung is a model city, a happier society.”

With this, GovInsider leaves the Mayor to his meetings, and heads off into the mist to scour out satay- and maybe get some thinking done as well.

Read about the Bandung Institute of Technology, or “Indonesia’s MIT”, here.

Images from Ridwan Kamil’s Facebook Page