Jakarta city banks on apps to boost quality of life

Jakarta city banks on apps to boost quality of life
Jakarta officials are pinning their hopes on a "Smart City" strategy to improve the quality of daily life for the 10 million residents struggling to overcome the notoriously congested capital's chronic shortcomings.

Jakarta officials are pinning their hopes on a "Smart City" strategy to improve the quality of daily life for the 10 million residents struggling to overcome the notoriously congested capital's chronic shortcomings.

Less than a year into his job as Jakarta governor, Mr Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama has embraced technology to track his staff and complaints; he has forced staff to install an app that geolocates them to handle the nearest public works complaint.

"We are using a Google Maps-based application that allows any complaints by the public to be matched to the nearest official, and if they do not respond, I will know and I will give them warnings before sacking them," the tough-talking 48-year-old told foreign journalists at the New Cities Summit in Jakarta.

As smartphone ownership and Internet penetration soar - with nearly three-quarters of those who get online accessing the Internet through their smartphones - the capital has joined other Indonesian cities hoping to follow Singapore's lead by adopting technologies to boost transportation and flood mitigation, and ease jams.

Information from two apps - Qlue for residents and CROP for officials - is integrated onto a single site. The smartphone app involves crowdsourcing and relies on the public to report public works issues like illegal parking, floods and littering by submitting photos or texting. The location of the incident is then recorded.

Other than apps, tenders and budget estimates go online to stem data manipulation or attempts at corruption, and changes to the locked document can be tracked to the user who has to sign in to make amendments.

Jakarta's municipal government is also using other apps to help it manage the city's web of chronic issues, such as working with Twitter and Waze to gather datasets on flooding and traffic.

PetaJakarta, designed by Australian University of Wollongong researchers and working with Twitter and the Jakarta Disaster Management Agency, uses tweets sent by Jakarta residents on floods to be overlaid on the map of the city in real time for immediate action.

Though launched with much fanfare, it remains to be seen how effective the Smart City programme is six months on.

Mr Setiaji, director of the Smart City Project, admits that the downloads for the interactive Qlue apps numbered only 40,000, a tiny figure given how populous Jakarta is. The city is home to an active social media scene and has the world's highest number of tweets.

One reason is lack of promotion of the app and also lack of access because it remains only on Android, he said during a discussion on "Delivering the Promise of Technology" at the summit.

Urban development affairs adviser Wicaksono Sarosa, from think-tank Transformasi, says the government needs to be more proactive to engage residents to ensure the success of such programmes.

"'Smart City' is a buzzword now across Indonesia but you cannot just provide apps and assume residents will know how to use them, or provide Wi-Fi in parks and call it a 'Smart City' programme. There has to be more understanding of it on both sides," he told The Straits Times.

In the meantime, Mr Basuki is also using old-fashioned methods to manage the city's issues. He has ordered 4,800 CCTVs for traffic chokepoints and crime-prone zones, with some of these being used to aid the Electronic Road Pricing system whose project tender is expected to open for bidding this month.

But the governor said the solution to the city's chronic issues would require more than the use of technology. He has fired 1,500 under-performing staff and said the money saved can be better used elsewhere. "The bureaucracy is too fat, some are too lazy and they feel like kings in their jobs," he said.

Aware that one man cannot effect all change, and that he will be unable to continue his work if he is not re-elected in 2017, Mr Basuki said this was why he was pushing public works companies to be listed within two years to improve performance.

His bluntness has prompted some political rivals to call for his impeachment and even death threats from enemies, but he remains unfazed, saying: "The first rule to get things moving is 'no bribery'. I don't care who you are.

"What is the solution to solving the problems in Jakarta? It is easy. It is me (leadership)," he said, adding: "You need an honest governor to execute the job, and if my attitude is 'don't be afraid to die young', then I believe Jakarta can change."

zubaidah@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 11, 2015.
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