Sunday, July 30, 2006

Optimism for Pekalongan and Solo

I don’t get to visit Mayors often, but last week was a special week, so we visited two. And what excitement and optimism did they bring me!

Our visit to the Mayor of Pekalongan (a city of 270,000 people on the northern shore of Central Java) was triggered by his commitment to improve sub-standard housing (‘slums’). Mayor Moh. Basyir Ahmad, who previously worked as a medical doctor, found that many health problems are caused by unhealthy living conditions. So this year Pekalongan has started programs to upgrade 250 houses. Next year it will be 850 houses, and the following year 1,500. He said specifically to us: “We need knowledge, not funds.”

Pekalongan is well known for its home-based fine Batik industry. (pic source here)

Nothing special there yet. But it’s encouraging that Mr. Basyir cited the Human Development Index (HDI) as a major factor in designing his programmes. The head (Bupati) of Jembrana district in Bali is also leading pro-poor programmes based on HDI, and Jembrana’s success is now promoted all over the country. [See a handbook on 'how to be like Jembrana', also read reviews here and here]

Our visit to the second city, Solo (officially known as Surakarta – in the centre of Central Java), is no less encouraging. Mr. Jokowi, who’s left his furniture export business to become Mayor, was with us for almost the whole day, as he took us around the city to show how he dealt with the informal traders ‘issue.’

Solo is often considered the source of 'finer' Javanese culture. They have a wayang puppet-mastering depertment (Jurusan Pedalangan) in STSI - Surakarta Art Institute.

Just 5 days before our visit, 1,000 informal traders conduct business on the public parks around Banjarsari Monument. Now they’ve all moved to a newly built Notoharjo ‘klithikan’ market in an area called Semanggi, which is still located in the business area of the city. The Mayor spent the last 9 months negotiating with traders associations, and came out with a deal like this: each trader would get a lot in the market, and he/she would have it free of rent and taxes for the upcoming 6 months. Each would also receive 5 million rupiahs (~500 USD) of soft loan as business capital. The Mayor expected that the new market will have return of investment in 8-9 years. After traders moved to the new market just 4 days before, we saw that the market is already bustling. Now that the monument is back on public hands, the Mayor is refurbishing the old monument for the upcoming Independence Day celebration in mid August. [read reviews from Kompas and Jawa Pos]

Maybe we should encourage more medical doctors (the Bupati of Jembrana is also one!) and entrepreneurs to be Mayors? :) Or what about Faisal Basri as Governor of Jakarta?

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