“I love Anies,” shouts my taxi driver, pumping his fists in the air. Personally, I wish he would keep hold of the steering wheel.
We are driving to the headquarters of Jakarta’s Governor-elect, Anies Baswedan, and Deputy Governor-elect, Sandiaga Uno, on the weekend after they were officially declared election winners. There is a party atmosphere around us, with the street thronging with well-wishers, and a large buffet inside. One man has even walked 400 miles to get there.
This is different to the angry protests and identity politics I have read about from afar. Clearly, the election was more complex than it seemed. Religion matters, and the protests remain very real—just two days after this meeting, Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama has been controversially jailed on blasphemy charges. But large numbers of low-income voters were also taken by Anies-Sandi’s commitment to jobs and consultation.
Now that they are the victors, GovInsider caught up with Sandiaga to find out about the new administration’s policies for Jakarta; how they will lead the civil service; introduce driverless cars, e-tendering, and startup support programmes—and piece a divided city back together again.
Unifying the City
What is the new administration’s top priority? “The most important thing is to unify the city,” Sandiaga says. “It’s been a very divisive and—towards the end—nasty campaign in the past few months.”
In particular, he wants to address “misperceptions” around the role of religion in their campaign – “misperceptions that we are going to be close to making the city very hardline Islam,” he says.
“I’m a very modern and moderate Muslim, and Anies is the same. We intend to uphold the constitution, whereby we’re going to be the leaders for everybody. We are not going to treat any particular religion or races as our preference, but we’re going to focus on building this unity together.”
“We are not going to treat any particular religion or races as our preference.”
That said, “actions speak louder than words”, he admits. Anies and Sandiaga will hold events that bring supporters of their opponents together to let them address concerns directly. “Some of them are concerned about the rise of ‘hardline Islam’,” he notes, and claims that “for the 18 months I’ve been around, I’m not seeing that. What I’m seeing is inequality, and some of these people channel their frustrations by… extremes.”
The new administration intends to work directly with the opposition on this, planning to “reach out and rope them in, and hope they could work with us for the next five years.” This will start with the transition to power.
Key administrators from Governor Ahok’s administration will be safe in their jobs, he says. “Unlike a Presidential race, whereby a new President comes in with an entire new cabinet, here it’s not the case. The only change will be at the top—it will just be the Governor and the Vice-Governor. The number three job, and all of the top leaders in the government, will stay.”
Anies and Sandiaga take over in October, giving a long lead time before they are in office. Their immediate plan is to focus on the current budget, which they inherit for the final two months of the year. Then, they’ll set out a strategic five-year plan.
“If you’re resisting technological improvement, you’re not going to be able to stay competitive.”
Technology is “very important” for the new administration’s plans, he says. “Digital economy, digital government, everyday life will be pretty much governed by digital.” In particular, this will be visible in transportation. “You will see driverless cars within five years,” he says.
Some cities are regulating to slow down their progress, I say, and he cuts me off before I ask whether he’ll do the same. “You cannot,” he responds. “I was the first rider of Uber. Go-Jek faced the same issues, but—hey—the people wanted the change. They’re embracing technology and digital, and if we keep on burying our heads in the sand, we’re not going to be able to provide the better living standards for the people of Jakarta.”
The “key”, however, is that these changes are accompanied by reduced inequality. Changes must allow small businesses better access than before, and enable them to compete on a level playing field as the big guys. “I’m a firm believer that you should continue to innovate,” Sandiaga adds. “If you’re resisting technological improvement, you’re not going to be able to stay competitive.”
Creating new jobs
Much of their election campaign centred around a plan to create 200,000 new jobs, which they intend to do by opening up government tenders and improving the business climate. This programme is called the One Kecamatan Centre for Entrepreneurship, or OK-OCE.
First, the new administration will cut the time it takes to get a business permit, Sandi says. “Despite the efforts by the current Governor, which are making progress, [it is] not fast enough to allow them to gain licenses and permits to conduct business. It takes them a long time, and it takes a few steps too many.”
Business permits sound like a dull area, but they can cause massive problems for startups. Long delays put people off from applying, while lengthy checks can enable corruption. The devil, here, is in the details.
Neighbouring Singapore ranks as number two in the world for ease of doing business, he adds; in contrast, Jakarta is at number 91. “I lived in Singapore for five years and I saw how the business climate is so conducive.” There is also local competition, with “Bandung transforming very fast, Surabaya is transforming, Jakarta needs to be able to get competitive,” he says.
More money for startups
Second, Sandi promises to create 44 centres around the city where startups can network with bankers and pitch for funding. “Financial institutions are actually flooded with liquidity,” the former investor says, and find it hard to learn of new startup opportunities. The centres will also provide training and mentoring, helping businesses to market their services and put together a digital strategy.
There won’t, however, be direct government funding for startups. “Long gone is the era whereby government will fund the whole thing. We want to keep the government lean and efficient,” he says.
Third, the new administration will change how government buys from the private sector. “We will have e-procurement,” he promises. They will also break up government contracts to support more small businesses. “During the current administration, they are consolidating their tenders, which allows bigger business to be more on the front stage.”
“In the name of being more efficient, the government inadvertently shut down opportunities for small business. So we will have a better screening process, and we will have a more open, transparent procurement that will be accessible to small business. That would be the key differentiator between the current and the next administration.”
How will this new team govern the city? What is their management style? “We are definitely employing meritocracy,” he says, committing to keep anti-corruption initiatives by the outgoing government that have been “quite effective”.
“The reform in the bureaucracy that they started to do has shown some early success. We need to focus on continuing to improve those programmes. I am a firm believer of not a big government; I think we need to be able to have a very efficient and a very, very clean bureaucracy.”
The current Governor has a blunt approach to management. Ahok has an app on his smartphone where he monitors officials’ performance in real-time. A dashboard ranks all 267 district subheads based on how quickly they responded to citizens’ complaints. He ruthlessly fires officials who are consistently at the bottom of this list, while promoting top-performing ones. “We will be as firm as what Basuki [Ahok] is doing now,” Sandiaga says.
“We will be as firm as Basuki”
Yet while he supports how the current Governor focused on better value for money, Sandiaga pledges a “different approach” between the current administration and the next one. “We are focused on working with the bureaucrats instead of firing them on the spot, which is like the trademark of the current administration.”
Praise for Ahok
What does he think worked well under the Ahok administration? Sandiaga names three areas: first, the perceptions of the city and its efficiency. “When you applied for an identity card in the past, people complained that it took some time. But here, he’s able to create an image that the city is all into providing city services, so that’s number one.”
Thanks to Ahok, “long gone are the days whereby you could easily push some of your assignments to the next year. I think the people of Jakarta will not allow us to do it.”
Second was infrastructure, he notes. However, he says that these projects tended to favour bigger businesses, while “the type of infrastructure that we will focus on going forward will enable more businesses to participate”.
Third, he says that Ahok was strong on communicating with citizens. But, the approach was “confrontational”, especially with the city council. Sandiaga wants a message of “working together”.
Sandiaga is new to government, with a background in investments and coal mining. Like a businessman, he wants to set key KPIs for city performance, but includes happiness within this. “The poor should not get poorer; the poor should be able to participate in the development of the city.”
His running mate, Anies, is a former academic who worked as an education minister. “He’ll bring his expertise on human capital development, as well as institution building,” Sandiaga says. “I’ll chip in with my economic and infrastructure credentials.”
It is clear that religious harmony is a vital discussion in the city, as is upholding the constitution. Within this interview, Sandiaga set out his policy plans, showing a change of emphasis with regards to business, management, and treatment of some segments of society. But there was much he praised his predecessor about, even if this was—typically—in a strained manner that reflects the heated politics of the past few months.
This new administration seems committed to their city, and clearly wants to prove what they can do. I ponder this as I head back to my hotel.
Briefly, I think about taking a taxi. But remembering my journey to meet Sandiaga, I decide maybe it’s best if I walk back instead.