High-tech solution to Jakarta's woes?

JAKARTA - Indonesia's capital - a chaotic metropolis with shaky Internet access - is hoping to turn its fortunes around with an ambitious online platform that allows residents to report problems from crime to traffic jams via their smartphones.

A concrete jungle with a population of about 10 million, Jakarta is infamous for monster traffic jams; rubbish-strewn, potholed roads; heavy pollution and flooding that hit poor slum areas every year.

After successive leaders failed to get to grips with the myriad problems, new Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is seeking to harness technology and tap residents' love of social media in the hope of driving through real change - but the initiative has its share of sceptics, not least among the city's luddite officials.

Launched a week ago, the Smart City plan gives people a platform to report problems - such as floods, rubbish left lying in the street, potholes and crime - with the idea that nearby officials would then respond quickly.

"We hope people will be active in reporting. If you want to be served well, then help us monitor the city," the Governor, who has two million Twitter followers, said during the launch of the project.

The initiative's main website, smartcity.jakarta.go.id, uses Google Maps and is integrated with the app Waze, owned by Google, which allows drivers to share real-time traffic information.

The site also links to two smartphone apps that have been designed specially for the project. The first, Qlue, is for residents to report problems, while the second, Crop, allows nearby officials to respond.

When a problem is reported, a red marker appears on the main site and when it is resolved, the marker turns green.

Mr Purnama, famed for reprimanding bumbling officials, hopes the initiative will speed up a bureaucracy criticised as bloated, ineffective and crippled by corruption.

The Governor, also known by his nickname Ahok, has ordered the 30,000 neighbourhood chiefs in Jakarta to prove they are doing their jobs by tweeting reports of problems in their area along with a picture, and is threatening to base their pay on how many messages they post.

The Internet had already become a popular tool among Jakartans for reporting problems in the city - particularly traffic - but Mr Purnama's is the first comprehensive plan by the authorities to use the Internet to help run the metropolis.

While observers welcomed the initiative, they expressed serious doubts about whether it would work in a city with patchy Internet access and technology-shy officials.

"It is a good idea, but I am not sure it will be effective," Ahmad Safrudin, a campaigner for cleaner air in Jakarta, told AFP. "In my experience, many in Ahok's administration are not even familiar with e-mail."

Suhono Harso Supangkat, an IT professor from the Bandung Institute of Technology, pointed out that there are still some black spots in the capital where it is hard to get online.

Internet penetration in Indonesia remains relatively low, with fixed broadband reaching less than 5 per cent of the population, although many more people are logging on via smartphones, particularly in big cities such as Jakarta.

But the biggest downfall of the initiative, critics point out, may be the failure of city officials to get to grips with technology.

District head Fidiyah Rohim said that many officials were confused about the system and had not even attempted to use it yet.

"I have neither accessed the website nor downloaded the application," he told The Jakarta Post newspaper.

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