Back in March 2016, Mayor Neni Moerniaeni, the newly-elected Mayor of Bontang, East Kalimantan, started out her term with an unforeseen challenge. The very core component that keeps the government running, Bontang’s regional government budget, was drastically decreased from USD139,065,503 to USD65,856,096 in just one year. However this obstacle did not discourage Mayor Neni from trying to realise her vision to develop Bontang as an industrialised maritime city.

Better healthcare, education and budget management

Mayor Neni’s plan focuses on building highly-qualified human resources and thriving ecological environment. Her priority in enhancing public health and education sectors reflected in a significant portion of 20 per cent budget allocated for these areas. The policy was not entirely popular due to budget cut on employee’s salary, benefits, and incentives. She admitted that it was a tough decision to make, but necessary. To address this concern, she made a commitment to restore the budget allocation for employees once the regional government budget reaches USD117,067,776. Soon enough, and thanks to Mayor Neni’s performance, the city’s budget increased steadily, enabling her to fulfil her promise in 2019 by raising the remuneration of non-civil servants up to the regional minimum wage standard.

Mayor Neni’s focus on education and health is evident throughout her term. The programmes implemented included free uniforms packages for students in Bontang City with a budget worth USD1,097.80. In 2017 alone, 38,727 students from all levels – elementary to senior high school – in both private and public schools have received the free package consisting of shoes, bags, and school uniforms. Mayor Neni shared that this particular programme had also fulfilled her long-time personal dream. She is always saddened to see children going to school without proper outfits. With this programme, students can be more motivated to study diligently and aim for successful academic achievements. Due to this exemplary work, Mayor Neni is recognised as the Best National Mother of Early Childhood Education and Development (PAUD) of 2019 by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture.

Mayor Neni has also shown her strong commitment to enhance people’s health quality. Bontang has become one of the regions with almost 100 percent of civil participation in BPJS, the health care insurance programme initiated by the national government. As a result, Bontang City received the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Award as an appreciation for the city’s commitment in local health and in synchronising local to national health programme.

Modernising the city, lifting quality of lives

Despite immense hurdles ahead, Mayor Neni managed to introduce positive changes for her constituents. Bontang has developed into a modern city with public spaces that accommodate local people’s better living. In 2016, the city’s area included 123 hectares of slum clusters, mostly centred on the coastal areas and riverbanks. To address the problem, Mayor Neni secured the support from the Indonesian Ministry of Public Works and Housing to construct low-cost apartment complexes. By 2019, through a collaborative programme with central government called Kotaku, Mayor Neni successfully improved around 100 hectares of slum areas and relocated people to three apartment complexes. Mayor Neni further promoted Bontang towards becoming a smart city, by providing free wi-fi access around the city as well as on surrounding islands. She hopes that the initiative would help local people enjoy the benefits of technological and digitalised world. Students in coastal residences would also have more access to information and knowledge.

Under the leadership of Mayor Neni, Bontang has received the Innovative Government Award (IGA) from the Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs in 2017 for the 16 ground-breaking programmes that Bontang city government has executed, including the Education Programme for Coastal Children (Prodikau), Free Internet for Coastal and Island Fishermen Communities (Interkoneksi), and Administrative System of Swift Public Services (Sapa Ratu). Moreover, Bontang city government was in the first place on Smart Region Maturity Index (SRMI) in 2016 – a significant improvement from its fifth position in 2015. Mayor Neni was also bestowed the Best Overall award in Indonesia Visionary Leader 2018 by the media for not only her visionary spirit in leading the city, but also her integrity, economic performance, and excellent political communications as a mayor.

Mayor Neni envisions a more ambitious plan for Bontang City in the future. She plans to develop Bontang as a maritime-based smart city. She wanted Bontang Port to grow into one of the biggest container ports in Indonesia through reclamation of 5-hectare land. Mayor Neni suggested that Bontang could become a “little Singapore” that is investment friendly and well-developed city.