Sri Surya Widati enjoyed a landslide victory in last year’s elections for Bantul regent, claiming 68% of the vote. She is passionate about improving the state of education, health, agriculture and business for her constituents.
Sri Surya Widati never dreamed about becoming the first female regent in the Special Province of Yogyakarta. “You know, for people who are involved in the private sector like my husband (Idham Samawi) and I, we often have a negative view of bureaucracy,” she admits. “In fact, I didn’t have an interest in running for regent at all.”
Then Idham, a prominent businessman and founder of the Kedaulatan Rakyat newspaper, announced he would contest the regency elections – and won.
As he was coming to the end of his tenure in 2009, the Bantul community began lobbying their leader to let his wife take over the reins.
Sri says although she wasn’t shy about running for regent, she would only do so with her husband’s blessing. Four months later, that blessing came, and so did the blessings of the people.
Still relatively new to the job, she says her biggest challenge is overcoming the restrictions Bantul’s limited general allocation fund (DAU) places on spending, because the area does not have the significant natural resources some regions possess.
About 70% of Sri’s budget is tied up in routine expenditure, such as the salaries of government staffers. Her raison d’être has become how to get more income for Bantul’s development budget without impacting wages.
“To start with, I asked my bureaucrats to be disciplined and punctual with their work as usually the central government rewards regions which complete public administration on time,” she says. “Thank God, this year we got a bonus of Rp40 billion and I want to use it to build new infrastructure and develop innovative education programs, among other things.”
When it comes to teaching the next generation, Sri is determined that every child in her neighborhood gets quality education. “We go from house to house, checking if there are any children whose families cannot afford to send them to school,” she says. “Sometimes we meet parents who don’t know that our government has a program to help their children attend classes.”
Bantul is the only region in Indonesia that has two education offices, the first dedicated to secondary and non-formal education, the other to primary and early education and special courses. Despite considerable financial constraints, the regency is working hard to help local teachers complete a master’s degree, or even a doctorate.
“Our region has the greatest number of teachers with a master’s degree in Indonesia,” Sri states proudly. “In fact, there are more than 1,000 elementary and high school teachers with that particular qualification and we are also funding 12 teachers and two bureaucrats to get their PhDs – one has already graduated. Our basic principle is: if the teacher is smarter, the student will be smarter too.”
Bantul is also the only region in Indonesia which can boast the minimum number of teachers with a master’s degree for the international standard pilot-project schools (RSBI) program.
Defiant in the face of nature
Not even the earthquake that rocked Yogyakarta in 2006 could stop Bantul streaking ahead. Its schools have recorded the highest levels of academic and sporting achievement at both the national and provincial levels.
“This year one of our vocational (SMK) students recorded the top national exam score in the country and we also received a Regional School Operational Assistance (BOSDA) award for the regent’s administrative punctuality,” says Sri.
“Even on the sports field we’ve had some wins, but this is not just my work, it is a tribute to the success of my team.”
The central government crowned Sri as Ibu PAUD Bantul (the mother of early childhood education in Bantul) after she drove the establishment of programs in 933 villages.
Meanwhile in a bid to tackle five key health issues, the DB4MK program has been rolled out, offering the village which eradicates maternal mortality, infant mortality, malnutrition, scarlet fever and tuberculosis Rp200 million in prize money.
“This is a very effective way of boosting general health and well-being in the community,” Sri says. “In addition, we provide free health check-ups and treatment for infants and pregnant women.”
Stabilizing farmers’ returns
Farmers haven’t been forgotten. Initiatives to facilitate irrigation and fertilizer, seed and pesticide supplies are already in place and the regency is striving to stop the price of agricultural goods falling during harvest.
With the agreement of the local assembly, the Bantul regency government set aside Rp3.5 billion for a special fund to buy produce. It stores commodities such as corn and rice in warehouses before releasing them back into the market to stabilize prices.
For foodstuffs that cannot be stored for long periods, like chili and onion, the regency buys them at the regular retail price then sells the goods to the central market for Jakarta, Pasar Induk Kramat Jati.
“There were 18 trucks in convoy to Jakarta,” Sri says, laughing. “My staff on the agricultural taskforce watched over the sales in Pasar Induk in their uniforms.”
Regional Development Planning Board head Riyantono says that even when prices have been very low at the farm gate, farmers have still been able to get a good return for their produce at Pasar Induk.
“Apparently, the reason the price fell was because of speculators anyway,” he says.
“But no matter what the reason, when the price drops we will buy at the normal price.”
One of Bantul’s big success stories is its flourishing traditional markets, a vital part of the lives of 16% of the population. The regency applies a ban on malls and supermarkets, while minimarts must be built at least 3 km from traditional markets.
“We have some great traditional markets in Bantul already and we just keep building more,” says Sri, who heads the local branch of the Indonesian Association of Traditional Market Traders. “This year, we will rebuild three traditional markets at a cost to the government of Rp16 to 18 billion.”
Seeing herself as a servant of society, Sri is determined to convince outsiders to invest in the region and reduce unemployment. There are about 30,000 people in Bantul with no fixed employment.
“I invite business people looking for a sound investment to come to Bantul,” says Sri.
“We will provide the land rent-free for several years and take care of licensing matters, so long as the business is labor-intensive.”
Under Sri’s leadership, regency secretariat staffer Bambang Legowo believes a strong family spirit has been developed. Bantul regional military commander Lt. Col. Czi Triambodo agrees that Sri makes everyone’s jobs easier and less procedural.
“There is no egotism in the government service here,” says the officer. “We can discuss everything with Sri comfortably. All the Bantul region leaders even call her bunda (mom).” GA