Is Solo’s Joko Widodo the best mayor in Indonesia? The government thinks so. The Ministry of Home Affairs presented him with the “Best Mayor 2011” award last month.
His constituents also seem to love what he’s doing. He and his deputy mayor, F.X. Hadi Rudyatmo, were re-elected last year with a whopping 90.09 percent of the vote.
So what did Joko, also known as Jokowi, do to deserve such esteem?
He moved Solo’s food vendors.
Well, he also has an excellent reputation for running a clean government and being above corruption (he received the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award in 2010). But it was his efforts to move the city’s numerous food vendors that showed people what kind of leader he really is.
While moving food vendors might not seem like a big deal at first, the success of that one project managed to reduce many of Solo’s problems, including traffic and sanitation woes. But what was really impressive about the four-year relocation project was the way Joko did it.
Instead of forcibly evicting street vendors from their usual haunts, Joko consulted them throughout every step of the process, ensuring a peaceful transition to new locations.
Now the vendors work out of several newly created central locations, including tents and shelters, as well as two major markets. The biggest, Pasar Klithikan Notoharjo, accommodates 989 former street vendors in its 17,688-square-meter area. Joko himself led the parade that marked the recent opening of the open-air market.
The relocation effort proved to be well worth the effort. Not only did it help clean up the city, it also resulted in the vendors making significantly more money.
“To me, street vendors are assets of city,” the 47-year-old mayor said. “Small- to medium-scale traders are the ones who survived the 1997 monetary crisis. They have proven that they can beat hardship and stay afloat.”
What makes it all the more impressive is that the peaceful relocation of Solo’s food vendors came at a time when many other cities in the country are still resorting to the use of violence to enforce order on their streets.
“I am a servant of society. I was elected to work for the people’s welfare,” Joko said. “It really never crossed my mind to hit, scold or force [street vendors] to do anything.”
Instead, the mayor invited the city’s hundreds of street vendors to informal talks over lunch and dinner — and not just once or twice.
“I had 54 lunches and dinners altogether. We held the talks at Loji Gandrung,” he said, referring to the mayor’s official residence.
During the informal talks with the vendors, he said the concept of relocation was mutually agreed upon by the city government and the vendors.
Joko believes that, as entrepreneurs, street vendors should be treated the same as the owners of any other small and medium enterprises.
While supermarkets, malls and mini-marts are popping up unchecked in other cities, Joko decided to revitalize his city’s traditional markets and help merchants compete with traders in modern markets.
According to him, one of the biggest mistakes made by many city administrations is bending over backward to help big investors build malls and supermarkets, while ignoring the development of traditional markets and street vendors.
“Street vendors should be given better facilities to run their businesses, whether in the form of shelters, tents, carts or markets,” he sad. “Meanwhile, more safeguards should be put in place in the process of granting licenses for the development of malls and supermarkets.”
Joko’s ideas about business management come from personal experience. After graduating from the forestry program at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, he started working as a furniture salesman.
Without any background in politics, he decided to run for mayor of Solo in 2005, hoping to make a difference in the city of his birth.
In 2008, Joko became the first Indonesian mayor to be invited by the United Nations to speak at the Governing Council forum in Geneva.
Before city leaders from around the world, he said his key to success was treating all elements of society fairly.
Joko has earned the respect of the people of Solo with his down-to-earth attitude and reputation for clean governance.
In fact, he says that he does not even accept his monthly salary from the administration — instead, he donates his earnings directly back to the city.
“Believe it or not, I have no idea [how much my salary is],” he said. “I do sign the payment check [for the city payroll], but that’s all I do. I never take my monthly salary. I never even see the envelope.”
The mayor of Solo is entitled to a salary of Rp 6.2 million a month, on top of benefits such as housing and a car.
With a current wealth of around Rp 15 billion ($1.7 million), obtained through his furniture export business and other enterprises, as reported to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in 2010, Joko said he had no need for the money, and no financial incentive to become mired in corruption. He said he would never use his position of power to enrich himself or his family.
“My position has not changed my family’s living conditions. Our house is still as it was 30 years ago,” he said. “We would prefer to build a furniture factory and open opportunities for employment rather than simply pile up wealth.”
In the course of his duties, Joko does take advantage of his official car, a 2002 Toyota Camry used by the previous mayor, Slamet Suryanto. But even when the mayor’s car broke down during a visit to the subdistrict of Nusukan, Joko did not make a fuss.
“I did not want to bother other people or employees,” he said. “I called Gibran, my oldest son, to pick me up. He came in our old Toyota Kijang. I went home with him, while the official car was towed to a garage. My life is as easy as that.”
It seems that, even with all the praise and awards he has received, Joko has not lost his sense of humility.
“I was chosen to work,” he said. “That’s it. Anybody may judge me as they wish. If it’s considered good, bad or whatever else, it’s not my concern.”