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Wahidin prioritizes public interest

Published by The Jakarta Post, Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Multa Fidrus, The Jakarta Post, Tangerang

Just 10 months after Wahidin Halim was elected as Tangerang mayor, significant changes can be seen across the municipality.

None could have predicted Wahidin’s efforts to go the extra mile to develop the municipality, create clean governance and uphold the law, all in the first year of his term.

Three months after serving as mayor, the public has praised him for his assertiveness in returning roads, pavements and river banks to their proper use.

Pasar Anyer intersections that had been occupied by hundreds of street vendors now look clean. Dozens of illegal restaurants that used to stand along the Cisadane riverbank on Jl. Benteng Makasar have been closed down and the riverbank has resumed its function as a city park.

“Street vendors have too long caused road users and pedestrians to be the losing parties and it is time now to return roads and pavements to their real functions — that they are the right of the public,” he told The Jakarta Post.

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

Go to the municipal administration office complex on Jl. Satria Sudirman on a Friday, and one will see male employees in baju koko (collarless shirts) and peci (traditional, black rimless hats) and female employees wearing veils, red baju kurung (sack dresses), long white skirts or pants.

“Banten claims itself as a center for Islamic boarding school students but what is the evidence of such a claim when guests visit us and ask about that?” Wahidin said.

With a requirement for people to wear Muslim garb once a week, Wahidin also wants to remind his staff to stick to the vision of the akhlakul kharimah (responsible and honest) leadership he initially committed himself to.

The four aims for the municipality are to: Recover and prompt growth in the economy, improve the quality and quantity of service to the public, develop a strong and clean administration and achieve environmentally friendly development.

“The administration is aware of (the aims) existence — public servants and are willing to pursue the achievement of the four aims if they are backed up with religious principles,” he said.

It seems not enough for Wahidin to simply sit behind a desk in his office and give orders to his staff. He frequently makes visits on foot, and meets and talks to community members, students, schoolteachers and traders at markets and listens to their complaints.

Several officials have even complained about Wahidin’s style as they could not keep up with him when accompanying him on field trips.

As he had identified many problems in taking the municipality forward Wahidin wrote a book, 1001 faces of Tangerang Municipality. Through the 155-page work, recently published, Wahidin has tried to analyze various problems.

“Development is identical with evictions — the making of social infrastructure. Is that wrong? Of course not. The city needs structural development but a city is not merely a structure.

“It needs space for human interaction, and basic rights, such as justice, freedom and democracy are fundamental needs that cannot be ignored by development pressures,” he said.

Movie director Garin Nugroho, who has added a comment on the book’s dust jacket, said an important element in leadership was the support that grows from the grass roots.

“Wahidin is a capable organizer, regulator and communicator; that’s the reason why a leader like him is needed,” he said.

Well-known lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, whose comments also appear on the same cover, said the power should be used for the benefit of people, which is why state officials are referred to as civil servants.

Wahidin was a good example of a state official who was also a civil servant, he said.

A type of leader who avoids formality, Wahidin 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 feel uncomfortable in his presence because Wahidin always makes them laugh.

He is likely to be the first regional administration leader to have spent 42 percent of the administration’s total budget on improving education.

“How can we create high-quality human resources if we ignore the educational infrastructure and other supporting facilities?” he said.

The allocation of Rp 80 billion from the Rp 205.5 billion budget was insufficient to renovate 212 dilapidated schools this year, so he has called upon the private sector to cover the financial shortfall.

He is collaborating with private investors through low-interest loans under an installment scheme, with total investment reaching Rp 228 billion to renovate damaged the schools.

“If we relied solely on the annual budget, the renovation would take three years to complete. By then, some of the schools might have collapsed,” he said.

Wahidin said the collaboration scheme with private investors should be followed by other administrations, and that the neighboring Tangerang regency was already on the lookout for investors for a similar project.

He said if the administration could finish the renovation work next year, it would concentrate on subsidizing poor private schools and help them to renovate using the 2006 budget.

“The following year, we shall focus on improving teachers’ welfare,” he said.

However, not all of Wahidin’s policies have been accepted. His proposal to relocate all amusement centers in Karawaci was opposed, and he eventually postponed it.

His plan to eliminate becak (pedicabs) from several main streets was also opposed by becak drivers.

Born in Pinang village, Tangerang municipality in 1954, Wahidin, known as a simple man, grew up and spent all his life there. He has refused to move the mayors’ official residence to 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 little Wahidin.

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

The young Wahidin married soon after he was promoted as a civil servant in 1979. In the early 1980s, the father of three was promoted to the position of Ciputat and Tigaraksa district administration chief.

In the course of his career, Wahidin then led several technical agencies and was administrative assistant under the Tangerang regency administration.

By late 2002, he was promoted to 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.

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