The Mayor of Makassar is a man much in demand. Ramdhan Pomanto says he usually sleeps only two hours a night, due to the constant updates he receives from WhatsApp.

City officials report their daily activities to him through 200 different groups on the chat service, which he monitors personally. When district officials visit households every week, “they must take a selfie [of the visit] and report to WhatsApp”, he says.

Makassar is strategically positioned at the centre of Indonesia, facing onto the busy shipping lanes of the Makassar Strait. The biggest issue for its future is “how Makassar can take position as the economic hub in East Indonesia,” Pomanto explains.

Economic growth

The Mayor is focusing on three areas to achieve economic growth – small businesses, housing and education.

Makassar’s economy is driven by small businesses , which are typically run by families in the city’s lorongs (Bahasa Indonesia for ‘alleys’). “The lorong is the cell of the city. My approach is to start from the lorong and strengthen the small businesses,” he says.

The government has built new kiosks for street hawkers to sell their goods. The Mayor, who was previously an architect, re-designed these kiosks himself. The kiosks have been set up along the city’s Losari Beach.

New units for Makassar
New units for Makassar

To improve housing, Pomanto has designed new, modular apartments which can be set up in three days. The government subsidises 50% of the cost of the apartments to make them more affordable, he says.

The third priority for economic growth is education. Schools are being encouraged “to motivate the next generation to know the city’s potential and how it can network as a global city”, Pomanto says.

Tracking benefits

The government wants to make sure that its housing and business schemes reach people who will benefit most from these. The Mayor has introduced smart cards, which hold data including tax and employment numbers.

District officials can use the smart cards to verify the employment status of residents receiving the housing subsidies. Entrepreneurs must have a smart card to register their businesses and receive government-backed loans from banks, Pomanto says.

The smart card also carries medical history – it can hold data on 155 types of disease, and also holds blood type and other vital indicators. The card is helping the government deliver healthcare in people’s homes. “If you are sick and you call the crisis centre, a doctor will come to your home to do a preliminary diagnosis. They can do an ECG, for example, and send the data to a specialist doctor. Maybe in 10 minutes, they will get a diagnosis through an iPad and copy the data to your smart card,” the Mayor explained.

Makassar is building an operations centre – a centralised unit to analyse all of this information. It will bring in data from across the government, including smart cards, healthcare, emergency services and public transport. “My strategy is to get big data from people. We can then analyse issues in real time to respond quickly and make exact decisions,” he said. The centre will be used from next year.

Changing people’s behaviour

Pomanto is encouraging residents to tidy up the city. People’s mindset has to change, he believes. His approach is to be “direct” with citizens. He has launched a campaign called Lihat Sampah Ambil (or Lisa) to get citizens to clean up after themselves. “If you see rubbish, pick it up,” he says.


“If you see rubbish, pick it up”

Another programme called Lorong Garden encourages residents to grow plants on the sides of the streets. 17,000 residents came to the launch of this programme, he says.

Next year, transportation is a priority for the Mayor. Apart from mini-vans known locally as pete-pete, the city does not have public transport. The Mayor wants to look into introducing buses and trains, he says. He is also designing a “smart pete-pete” where commuters can pay with their smart cards and which can be monitored through GPS.

Mayor Pomanto has prioritised businesses, housing and education for his plan to grow the economy, and much remains to be done to make Makassar the economic hub of East Indonesia. But this architect is employing a direct, hands-on style to construct a strong future.