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Wahidin Halim, a zealous mayor, sweeping all before him


Published by The Jakarta Post, Saturday, April 29, 2006

Multa Fidrus
The Jakarta Post, Tangerang

When Wahidin Halim was elected Tangerang mayor in October 2003, no one could have predicted that he would go that extra mile to develop the municipality, create clean governance, uphold the law and clear liquor and prostitution from the city.

Despite facing intense criticism and the threat of lawsuits, the mayor, known as “WH” locally, continues to pursue his vision of a more moral society through controversial regulations that ban alcohol and prostitution.

“We shall go ahead and punish any violations,” he said, adding that his administration was prepared to face the consequences that might result, including class-action lawsuits by disgruntled locals.

The regulations were not of his own making, but merely the wish of the people, as represented by the municipal council, he said.

The antiprostitution regulations became a national issue after the administration tried 31 people charged with violating them.

The misdemeanor trial was held in public at the city hall in conjunction with the celebration of the municipality’s 13th anniversary on Feb. 28.

Lilis, 34, the pregnant wife of an elementary school teacher was caught, along with 26 other women, by public order officers enforcing the prostitution regulations, as she waited at the side of the road for a public minivan.

But the woman, who pleaded not guilty, was unable to prove to the court that she was not a prostitute. She could not show her identity card nor she could present her husband or members of her family to testify in her support during the trial.

Her “prostitute-like” appearance convinced judge Barmen Sinurat to dismiss her explanation and fine her Rp 300,000. She was held in custody because she could not pay the fine and was released three days later.

Commenting on the case, Wahidin said the regulation upholds the dignity of women; criticism must have been orchestrated by groups out to exploit women to satisfy their own vices.

Religious and community leaders have praised the mayor for his efforts and urged the authorities to be forceful in their enforcement of the regulations because they believed that no religion allows prostitution or the excessive consumption of alcohol.

The municipal council endorsed the regulations on Nov. 21, 2005. The liquor bylaw bans the distribution and sale of alcoholic drinks, except in three-, four- and five-star hotels and designated restaurants for on-the-spot consumption.

Violators can face imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of up to Rp 50 million. Article 4 in the bylaw on prostitution bans people, either in public places or locations visible to the public, from enticing others, either by words or signals, into acts of prostitution.

It also bans public intimacy, hugging and/or kissing that is deemed to trigger passion, either in public places or places visible to the public such as hotels, restaurants or entertainment centers. Violators may face up to three months in prison or a fine of Rp 15 million.

Since the regulations are capable of multiple interpretations, the administration has been preparing a draft containing instructions for its technical implementation.

Wahidin, a sibling of foreign affairs minister Hasan Wirayuda and the father of three from his marriage with Niniek Wahidin Halim, began to make significant changes across the municipality just 10 months after he became mayor.

Within three months, the public praised him for his assertiveness in returning roads, pavements and riverbanks to their proper use. He also named publicly nine industrial firms that were judged to be polluting the environment.

Five months later, Wahidin told all administration employees to wear Muslim garb every Friday, while non-Muslims could continue to wear civil servant uniforms as normal.

With the clothing requirement, Wahidin wants to remind his staff to stick to the vision of the akhlakul kharimah (religious, responsible and honest) leadership he initially committed himself to.

Wahidin is not the type of a leader who simply sits behind a desk in his office, barking orders at his staff. He often makes unannounced visits on foot, meeting and talking to local people, students, schoolteachers or traders at markets and listens to their complaints.

“Wahidin is a capable organizer, regulator and communicator; that’s the reason why a leader like him is needed,” movie director Garin Nugroho commented on the dust jacket of a book written by Wahidin, adding that an important element in leadership was the support that grows from the grass roots.

Wahidin, avoiding formality, always appears exactly as he is, treating all he meets as friends, and is always in good humor with a joke ready. None of his staff, journalists or whoever meets him feel uncomfortable in his presence because Wahidin always makes them laugh.

He is the first regional administration leader to have spent 42 percent of the administration’s total budget in 2005, and 49 percent this year, on improving education.
“How can we create high-quality human resources if we ignore the educational infrastructure and other supporting facilities?” he said.

He made an agreement with private investors to obtain low-interest loans repaid under an installment scheme, with total investment reaching Rp 228 billion, to renovate 221 damaged schools last year.

To enable citizens to voice their aspirations, and to identify emerging problems, Wahidin has also initiated “SMS democracy” in cooperation with a local newspaper. It publishes daily information from the community sent via cell phone text messaging (SMS).

However, not all of Wahidin’s policies have been accepted. His proposal to relocate all amusement centers in Karawaci was opposed, and he has postponed it for the time being. His plan to eliminate becak (pedicabs) from several main streets was also opposed by becak drivers.

Born in 1954 in Pinang village, which was formerly part of Cileduk district, Tangerang municipality, Wahidin has spent all of his life there. He declined to move to the mayors’ official residence on Jl. Daan Mogot.

Walking barefoot every day to elementary school in Pinang and junior high school in Cileduk was his habit because his father, a schoolteacher, could not afford to buy a bicycle for the young Wahidin.

He finally got a bike after he started senior high school in Tangerang, continuing his studies at the University of Indonesia. After graduation, Wahidin was elected the first village head with a university diploma, in 1978.

The young Wahidin married soon after he was became a civil servant in 1979. In the early 1980s, he was promoted to the position of district administration chief at Ciputat (twice) and Tigaraksa.

By late 2002, he became Tangerang municipal administration secretary and a year later was elected mayor.

Wahidin has acquired much organizational experience as chairman of many community groups. As manager of Tangerang regency’s Persita and Tangerang municipality’s Persikota football teams, he has placed a priority on education.

He established the Nurani Kami Foundation, which regularly gives scholarships to 150 poor school and university students each year.

A gubernatorial seat now awaits Wahidin; he has announced his willingness to be nominated as a candidate by the Demokrat Party to compete in the upcoming Banten Gubernatorial election.

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