Jakarta Governor’s Cleanup Campaign

What Jakarta’s governor, Joko Widodo, is doing to clean up the sprawling, vice-ridden city he inherited from a luckless ally of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono demonstrates an intriguing contrast to the cleanup efforts of the country’s highly praised Corruption Eradication Commission.

The commission has won international plaudits for a long string of arrests that, among other things, in recent months virtually wiped out the leadership of Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party and have reportedly come close to Yudhoyono’s family itself.

Since it came into existence in 2003, the KPK, as it is known, has investigated, prosecuted and won 86 bribery and graft convictions related to government procurements and budgets and has never lost a single one. Among scalps are the Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng and Democratic Party leader Anas Urbaningrum, who has been charged but not yet tried. Hardly a week goes by without yet another politician waltzing off to jail. It has taken on top members of the National Police, arrested the nation's chief oil and gas regulator and charged the head of the Constitutional Court with accepting bribes.

That is obviously an enviable record that has been given credit for a major impact on the political scene. But Jokowi, as he is known, is taking another tack, one that in the long run may be more sustainable – systemic change instead of televised trips to the slammer. The arrest of yet another top politician is akin to dipping another cup of water out of the Ciliwung River that runs through the city. The process of changing the system, with or without arrests, may be more effective.

It is one of those traits Jokowi is exhibiting that enhance his already considerable reputation in the run-up to national elections later this year. Jokowi is by far the leading candidate and about all that could stop him would be that Megawati Sukarnoputri, the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P, might block him to run herself.

Jokowi’s latest move is to investigate fraud in the Rp113 billion (US$9.6 million) purchase of new city buses as a move to change Jakarta’s rigged procurement process to make it more transparent and rid it of corruption. The buses cost Rp1 billion each in China. They were delivered to Jakarta costing Rp3 billion. Although the city so far this year received a total of 656 buses, less than a month into their use 15 of them were found to be unfit for the city streets.

Earlier, Jokowi has overhauled tax collections, slowly eliminating the notorious tax brokers who routinely syphon off revenues by “negotiating” with business owners. Now the entire process for many businesses is online and owners can log in to see their tax accounts. By putting hotel, restaurant, entertainment and other taxes online in the past year, revenues have skyrocketed and the city budget has been increased from U$4.1 billion in 2013 to US$6.8 billion for 2014.

The governor and his deputy have promised the prosecution of officials involved in the markups of bus procurements. Yesterday he emphasized the need for stricter monitoring, management control and field inspections as his administration starts to implement a number of high-value projects.

“We need better management,” he told reporters. “The city’s inspectorate office may be able to handle the smaller ones, but some projects are very big and we don’t have the necessary monitoring measures. That is what we want to do with the project-management office.”

Among the bigger projects undertaken by the government this year are a mass rapid transit system, a monorail, the TransJakarta bus network and the construction of low-cost apartments, all of which involve trillions of rupiah from the city coffers and each of which must be scrutinized carefully and made transparent in a system where transparency has never been a goal – nor , for that matter, a clean bid process.

Jokowi said he is frustrated by the lack of control management on the part of the city administration. Given the size of the city, with 9 million residents in a conurbation of 23 million people, he finds it impossible to check management of the projects contained in 57 different budgets directly. He receives assistance from the Supreme Audit Agency and the Financial Development Comptroller.

He called on the public to remain patient while waiting for results from the bus probe, emphasizing that it was necessary for the institution not rush to any conclusions when making its recommendations. There have been calls for the city administration to involve the Corruption Eradication Commission in its investigation. The KPK has expressed its willingness to support city officials.

The central government has allocated a total of Rp 201.88 trillion for the purchase of goods and another Rp205.84 trillion for capital expenditure in its budget for 2014. Additionally, the state has also allocated Rp 341 trillion to provinces and districts across the country.

The presidential election is scheduled to be held in April to select a candidate to fill the seat now held by SBY. Jokowi is running far ahead of his closest competitor, Prabowo Subianto. If he is selected as the candidate and he wins, he will then be presented with the job of translating this kind of systemic cleanup to a government that has never, since its independence following World War II, ever come close to even trying. Last year, according to Indonesia Corruption Watch, regional institutions, mostly in North Sumatra and East Java are rife with corruption. Last year, 35 regional chiefs were caught up in graft scandals, prompting the ICW to warn of a “corruption emergency” in the country.

(With reporting from Jakarta Globe)