Pekalongan prides itself as the “world’s city of Batik”, a traditional craft creating intricate patterns on cloth. Perhaps inspired by this, the city’s newly-elected Mayor wants to weave citizens closer into the fabric of government.

Achmad Alf Arslan Djunaid, started his term last month, having served for five years as deputy mayor. He is clear that he needs to innovate, he says, because Pekalongan has more challenges than it has money. “The government budget is not large when compared with the problems that must be addressed”, he says.

Meet the people

Mayor Djunaid is turning to citizens for ideas on how the city can be improved, and wants to involve them in policymaking. “There is great potential in a society where we could mobilise social capital and solve problems together”, he says.

The Mayor – nicknamed Alex – has launched a scheme called “Alex Mendengar” (meaning ‘Alex Heard’) to encourage citizens to challenge him on problems. At these sessions, any citizen can speak directly with the Mayor to share complaints on public services or suggest new ideas. The heads of every department in the city must be present so they can take the feedback to their civil servants.

Technology is a key part of creating this “community-based approach”, he says. “ICT therefore is one of the priorities for Pekalongan city so that services become easier, faster, cheaper and more efficient,” he adds.

In the case of the ‘Alex Mendengar’ scheme, social media has been crucial, especially Twitter. It has helped the government get the word out on the programme, and allows the Mayor to reach a wider audience than just those who are at the meetings.

The Mayor has hosted two sessions so far on alternate Fridays, and “residents are very enthusiastic”.

Pekalongan’s tech team is building a website to allow citizens to track whether ideas put forward during these sessions are acted upon. All complaints and suggestions will be published on the website, and departments must respond directly to citizens, explaining how they have followed up.

This will allow citizens to monitor the government’s progress, but also allow the Mayor to track performance across city departments, he says.

Floods and roads

But even without help, Mayor Djunaid says he knows the “real problem” of Pekalongan from his experience as deputy mayor. This year his priorities are to address two of the city’s biggest challenges: keeping floods out and improving infrastructure.

Pekalongan is a low-lying coastal city, flooding when sea levels rise or there is heavy rainfall. The government plans to create “polders” – a technique used in the Netherlands – digging trenches along the coastline to stop water from coming inland.

The project will cover 10 hectare of land along the city’s northern coast, with construction starting next year. It will cost a total of IDR 100 billion (US$37.5m), the Mayor says.

The provincial government will cover half of this, with another IDR 20 billion (US$7.5 million) from the city and assistance from the central government. “The Governor [of Central Java] has come to Pekalongan to see the programme and committed to help”, he says.

His second – and a related priority – is to improve infrastructure. The city’s roads have been damaged by flooding, he says, and need to be rebuilt.

The government will build a new highway along the coast. Heavy vehicles like trucks and buses will use these roads, and will be kept out of the city. “Only smaller vehicles will go through the city”, he says, easing traffic within the city centre.

Pekalongan has some way to go to solve its biggest problems, but Mayor Djunaid is taking the first steps by modernising the 110 year old city that is home to Indonesia’s Batik.