Architect-turned-mayor transforms his hometown into Indonesia's least bureaucratic city

Smart city initiatives have helped Bandung, Indonesia’s third-largest city, become a role model for government performance as its architect-turned-mayor focuses on slashing red tape.

“We have the best performance in bureaucracy in Indonesia today,” Ridwan Kamil, mayor of Bandung, told CNBC on Thursday.

Investing in technology to transform how citizens are served has quashed corruption and improved the overall efficiency of state programs, he said on the sidelines of the Milken Institute’s annual Asia Summit.

Three years into the job, Kamil has built 400 software applications aimed at speeding up public service. One of those is called GAMPIL, which allows small and medium enterprises under $ 5,000 to register their businesses online instead of applying for a permit at a government office.

“We are the only Indonesian city where SMEs don’t require a permit, which helps demolish corruption,” Kamil said, adding that 60,000 new SMEs were born within three months of enforcing the policy.

The use of e-budgeting has also ended ineffective and costly programs, saving the city almost $ 200 million last year, he continued.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy is home to a youthful population and booming internet penetration rates, so the digitization of public services should come as no surprise. Millennials’ usage of technology will transform Indonesia over the next five years, according to Kamil.

A former architect with zero political background, he decided to enter politics in 2013 and won 45 percent of the vote. With only one more year left in his term, the former businessman is now setting his sights on the governorship of West Java province, of which Bandung is capital.

Indonesians want leaders who are hands-on with problems, he explained.

“I’ve asked the 70 departments of my city to have social media accounts [and] the trust level to my administration is now at 90 percent,” he said.

Kamil’s private-sector experience has also helped tackle a national issue: crumbling infrastructure.

The mayor is a proponent of public-private partnership models, in which global investors are invited to build projects in Bandung over long-term contracts.

“The way we spend money in Indonesian cities for infrastructure is very conventional, it’s too slow,” Kamil explained.

Because the government budget simply isn’t enough, public-private partnerships can fulfill Bandung’s infrastructure needs within a decade, while traditional spending mechanisms would take 30 years, he said.

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