Basuki Tjahaja Purnama's statements have a way of making people turn red, particularly those opposing him. Some even see him as crass and uncouth. But Ahok, as Jakarta's deputy governor since October 2012 is familiarly known, admits it's his character to speak out is unlikely to change.
The former regent of East Belitung said he has no problem speaking openly because, “in governing Jakarta, we only comply with the constitution, and we have no self-interest whatsoever,” he told Tempo. Which is why this Bangka native claimed to being unaffected when his policies touch all classes of society, from the poor to the tycoons.
To be sure, such a stance has its risks. He has learned to live with anger and the most extreme threats, so that he is now prepared to face the most serious consequences. Death, according to Ahok, is fate. “Does being afraid make death go away?” he asked rhetorically.
In the eight months since he has governed Jakarta alongside Governor Joko Widodo, Ahok has repeatedly stressed the need for public transparency if there is to be a new Jakarta. One of his efforts at maintaining transparency is through his personal website www.ahok.org, where all information regarding his activities, work schedule, wealth, salary and benefits as Jakarta deputy governor, and his cell phone, can be found.
Ahok has availed himself twice for an interview with Tempo, despite his packed schedule. The most recent one took place two weeks ago, when our reporters, Dwi Wiyana and Widiarsi Agustina met him at his office in central Jakarta. Not surprisingly, the interview was open – pure Ahok – relaxed and free from any protocol.
Below is part of the interview. The full version is available on print in this week's edition of Tempo English (July 3-10).
After so many studies on Jakarta's problems, why is it so difficult to solve them?
The problem is whether there can be a leader who is brave enough to comply only with the constitution and not his constituents or other interests. Jakarta is where the poor as well as the rich have their backers.
You dare to impinge on the tycoons?
Because we have no self-interest and only obey the constitution, we can impinge on anyone, from the poor to the tycoons. In Jakarta, all problems have been mapped, studied and their resolutions formulated by various universities and world organizations. They just need to be executed. This is what Pak Joko always says. This is the difference with the regions.
What are the differences?
In the regions, there are no studies and no solutions recommended. In massive and complex Jakarta, we have all kinds of studies and their solutions. In the regions, when I meet 10 people, perhaps – and I apologize for saying this – maybe two people are smarter than myself. The other eight would be just like me. But in Jakarta, when I meet 10 people, the eight are smarter than I, and the remaining two may be like me. So, it's easier to manage this capital city. But there seems to be a link that has been lost in Jakarta.
What link is that?
The courage to execute without any self-interest.
Can you give an example?
We all know a macro transportation system is needed to solve the traffic congestion in Jakarta, such as the railway. But to implement the MRT (mass rapid transit) seems an impossibility. Then there's the Transjakarta system, which has been operating for nine years yet there are only 600 buses and most of them are not working. When an operator fails to operate the number of buses available, we lack the courage to penalize him.
What solution do you offer to solve the traffic problem?
Add more buses! One thousand mid-size and 1,000 Transjakarta buses.
How much time would be needed to add more buses?
Two years. If the meeting to coordinate development reports can be accelerated, next year we can buy buses. Our target is that next year, we buy 1,000 mid-size buses and 1,000 Transjakarta buses.
What would be another solution to the traffic problem?
Of course, the MRT must be built. The loop line train must be supported by an underpass or a flyover. There are 18 points which must be addressed but working on them is not as easy touching Aladin's lamp. If those 18 points are built simultaneously, Jakarta can be totally deadlocked. This is a 30-40 year task which we are asked to complete in eight months.
What about the plan to carry out the odd-even car license plates?
The odd-even numbers cannot work if there are not enough buses. If there are no buses, no matter what number comes up, how will people travel? So, this plan has been delayed until there are enough buses.
What cannot be postponed are the floods.
To stop the flooding, rivers and dams must be regulated from upstream. We must build defenses against robs (floods when sea tides are in) in northern Jakarta. The most vital upstream source is the 80-hectare Pluit Reservoir, which can hold seven million cubic meters of water. People have been living there for tens of years. When we tried to relocate them they demanded compensation but we refused to pay.
It's asking for money in the wrong way. If they are compensated, they will move away, wait to be compensated some more, then move again. We refused to pay so we can make a distinction between who wants to live in flats, who just wants to make a living out of squatting, moving and getting money out of it, and those who rent out the land.
What is the status of the Ciliwung River flood plains?
All lands will be released. The Jakarta administration will build apartments at Pasar Rumput and make an inventory of other markets. Normally, markets are only two to four storeys high. Why not build apartments over the markets?
Many people don't appreciate your single-mindedness and they become your enemies.
I am past the point of being afraid because if I'm fated to die, I will. Does it mean if we are afraid, we won't die? So, I just accept it. If it's not your time yet, even if someone throws you a grenade, you won't die.
A number of polls indicate Governor Jokowi is the strongest presidential candidate for 2014. Has he spoken to you about this?
Never. The Governor only laughs when people talk about it. He's got no time to think about it, Jakarta alone gives headaches.
Do you think he is a good candidate for president?
Definitely. He is a decision maker and he has no self-interest.
But he could carry the interests of the Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P).
Not really. When PDI-P gives him something, he rejects them.
If he does run for president, should it be in 2014 or 2019?
In my view, if he wants to, it should be in 2014, because Indonesia cannot wait. If we wait another five years, Indonesia is done for.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama
Birth: Manggar, East Belitung, June 29, 1966
- DPRD Member, East Belitung District (2004-2009)
- Ran for Bangka Belitung Governor but failed (2007)
- DPR Member for Golkar (2009-2014)
- Deputy Governor of Jakarta (2012-2017 after leaving Golkar to join Gerindra)