Exclusive: How the Mayor of Surabaya is cleaning up government

By Joshua Chambers Medha Basu

GovInsider interviews Tri Rismaharini, the Mayor of Surabaya, Indonesia.

Image: Tri Rismaharini/Instagram

The streets of Surabaya are lined with… nothing. The usual flotsam and jetsam of second tier cities doesn’t fill the gutters at the side of the road.

The Mayor has led a campaign to cleanse the city, both of its garbage, and also of internal problems within the government. Using technology, data analytics, and gumption, she has pressed ahead with an ambitious programme of reform.
GovInsider caught up with Mayor Tri Rismaharini to find out what she has been up to, and how she plans to spend her second term in office.

Citizens’ complaints

In the last year, Risma has launched a complaints hotline - 112 - and built an operations centre to coordinate the government’s response to calls. Citizens can call in to complain about garbage, traffic or emergencies. Litter on the streets must be cleaned up within seven minutes of a call, the Mayor has told her staff.

There have been some more unusual complaints too. City staff have rescued a cat stuck on a roof, ferried children from school to their sick parents in hospital, and soothed a frightened elderly person who did not want to spend the night at home alone. “It’s very unique”, Risma says.

The centre also tracks the location of all senior staff through a dedicated 112 app on their smartphones. Police officers get even closer scrutiny. They are required to send in regular reports of their activities along with a photo as proof, whether they are responding to a complaint or attending Friday prayers.

In her own city hall office, the Mayor has a giant video wall with live footage from across the city. From here, she personally monitors traffic, public safety, flooding and cleanliness. If she sees something she doesn’t like, she’ll pick up the phone and call her team.


The Mayor believes she has cut corruption in procurement and budgeting. Since 2003, the city has been tracking spending plans, budget allocations and procurement digitally. “You can see what has been changed, and how much money for the budget has come from tax”, she says. Officials must justify any spending they include in this system, she adds.

This has allowed her to cut waste in government spending, re-allocating money towards new roads, she adds. “Every year, we have reduced 20-25% from the budget with e-procurement,” she says. “Surabaya is more efficient than other cities in Indonesia,” she claims. Specifically, she compares it to the capital city, Jakarta, which just recently announced plans to introduce e-procurement.
“Every year, we have reduced 20-25% from the budget with e-procurement.”

Mapping land permits

Image: Yanuar Satria P.

Recently, she has also begun use mapping services to track land permits and government-used land. “I will know if someone tries to steal the land, or if someone gave an illegal permit,” she explains, zooming into colour-coded maps on her iPad. She can view information on who rents the land and how it is being used. All of the information is also available online for free for businesses and residents to see.

Risma hopes that tracking such information and having it publicly available will protect the government against false allegations. There have been politically motivated cases of complaints against government permit processes. She has used permit-tracking data to prove that these were false statements and reported them to the police, she says.

Such cases are not so much of a problem anymore, Risma believes, “because they know we have data and we have evidence”. “It’s important for us, especially the staff and government officials, to protect them from defamation,” she adds.

Boosting e-commerce

Supporting Surabaya’s local businesses to market and sell their products online is another focus for the Mayor. “If we can make a better online system, they can widen their customer base more,” she says. Surabaya’s small and micro enterprises may one day be able to sell their products to those in other Indonesian cities and overseas.

The Mayor has been on multiple trips to Silicon Valley to woo interest in Surabaya as an e-commerce hub. She is working with Facebook to provide training to local entrepreneurs on how to market their products, improving their quality and even its packaging.

The city is also improving access to business permits, bringing 230 different licences into an online system. Businesses can apply online, track the status and have the permit delivered to them by post. “With online, you don’t need to wait for me or for the head of department,” Risma says.

These improvements, the Mayor hopes, will make the city more attractive to foreign companies and help grow local ones. “Every year, the population is growing and investment is coming to Surabaya, so we need to make it easier for citizens and for investors,” she says.

Next year, improving draining infrastructure will be a key priority for her. “I am trying in the next year that there is no flooding at all in Surabaya,” she says.

The Mayor believes that Surabaya has received an unfairly low share of funding. “Our budget is only 10% of Jakarta”, although it is half its size in area and a quarter in population, Risma says.

Regardless, the Mayor is eager to prove that she can overcome these challenges using technology to build a city that is clear of corruption, has reliable infrastructure and is attractive to overseas businesses.