Your average member of the House of Representatives isn’t exactly champing at the bit to sit down for an interview and talk about corruption, transparency and his attendance at plenary sessions.
But then again, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok to his colleagues in the House, isn’t your run-of-the-mill lawmaker.
Today, the Belitung-born 45-year-old gives us a glimpse into his world — one that surprisingly isn’t fraught with excuses or evasiveness, but rather answers and solutions, the likes of which might leave you with a smile on your face and a little hope for the future.
Have you ever fallen asleep during a plenary meeting?
I can honestly say I have never fallen asleep during a session. Those that do are probably tired, sick or unmotivated. Meetings can get tiring. Sometimes people say things that are worth listening to, but other times people just talk a bunch of nonsense. The thing to remember is that if we have the desire to learn from a meeting or a discussion ,we will take something away from it. When you are enjoying a session and learning, it is impossible to fall asleep.
You’re Chinese-Indonesian and a Christian. Do you ever feel like your colleagues treat you any differently?
Golkar, the party I am a member of, never makes a fuss about it. I also don’t feel like I’m a second-class citizen. I am free to talk about anything based on my rights and duties as a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives. I don’t feel ashamed to let people know that my name is Ahok. Why should I? So what if my grandfather came from China? I’m an Indonesian. And according to constitutional law any Indonesian has the right to be president.
In Tuesday’s plenary session in which the Democrats blocked a special inquiry into corruption in the tax office, 30 House members were not in attendance. Where were they?
Some were in prison, sick or were away for medical check-ups. However, all of the Golkar members were present.
You represent Bangka and Belitung, two islands off the coast of South Sumatra. How are they different from Jakarta?
If you are a poor person living in Jakarta and you get sick, almost no one would help take you to a hospital. But in Belitung, your neighbor may still be willing to give you a coconut if you’re poor and offer to take you to a nearby hospital if you’re sick. Plus, there aren’t any traffic jams in Belitung — except when a tree falls down in the middle of the road [laughs].
This is a cliche, but I’d like to know your thoughts on traffic in Jakarta.
Jakarta has become more and more complex, but you know what, we’ve had these traffic problems figured out since [former governors] Pak Ali Sadikin and Pak Sutiyoso were in office, because they gathered experts to come up with solutions in each area: North, South, West, East and Central Jakarta.
If you ask me why traffic is getting worse it always goes back to the same answer: corruption. The answers are there and they’re actually quite simple. All we need is a government whose heart beats for the nation.
What does a member of the DPR do with his free time?
I like to go to the cinema and watch movies with my wife and children near our house in Muara Karang. The last movie we watched was “22 Bullets.”
What’s the best part about being a member of the House of Representatives?
The best part is that as a member, I can say whatever my ideas are and challenge other members and ministers. I made a point on public information transparency that all government officials’ assets and annual income taxes should be stated online so that all Indonesians can judge these officials for themselves. If our government officials don’t pay their taxes, how can we expect the rest of the nation to pay their taxes, especially if these officials also misuse the money?
What’s the worst part?
The worst part is that we don’t have money in our hands. People in a liberal democratic society think that members of the House of Representatives have control over the bupati [district head]. But we don’t. People don’t understand. We only have the authority to monitor things on a national level but we cannot be directly involved in, say, fixing a street in the city.
Any ideas on how you as a representatives can be more directly involved?
In the United States, all members of the House of Representatives are given a budget. However, here in Indonesia only 80 members are given that budget.
That’s why I previously suggested an aspiration fund. It’s not to benefit myself, but to give each member a budget of Rp 15 billion [$1.7 million] to use to help the province they represent.