My Jakarta: Michael Victor Sianipar, Basuki’s Personal Assistant

By Angelyn Liem on 06:39 pm Mar 06, 2013
Category My Jakarta
Michael Victor Sianipar believes in change at the grassroots level. (JG Photo/Angelyn Liem)

Michael Victor Sianipar believes in change at the grassroots level. (JG Photo/Angelyn Liem)

When Basuki Tjahaja Purnama became the new Jakarta deputy governor, he brought five of his most trusted people to City Hall. Personal assistant Michael Victor Sianipar was one of them, and the youngest of the group.

The 21-year-old is dedicated to Basuki and his vision for the city that he postponed his pursuit of a law degree to work at City Hall.

My Jakarta caught up with Michael to ask what its like working for Basuki, also known as Ahok, making changes at the grassroots level and what his plans are for the future.

How did you end up in this job?

I was looking for something to do before the start of law school when a friend convinced me to join Ahok’s team as his temporary campaign assistant. At first, I was only expecting to help out for a month or two before moving on to other internships. But before I knew it, one thing led to another. I have always aspired to work in the government, but I never imagined it would be this early.

Why did you hold off plans of graduate school for this job?

It was not an easy decision, especially after all the stress I went through to apply. But after campaigning all over Jakarta, exploring the slums and convincing people that their livelihoods could be improved, I was faced with difficult, perhaps moral, questions. Do I really care about these people at all? Do I actually believe the things I said to them? Do I understand what it means to be a true public servant? I could only find satisfactory answers if I stayed and carried on with the job.

What does your job entail?

I manage people’s texts, e-mails and BlackBerry messages that come to Ahok every day — on average 500 messages a day, though not all require a response.

Some messages require an emergency response. For instance, one afternoon I happened to be carrying one of Ahok’s 11 BlackBerrys when it received a text message from a man whose baby had just been born prematurely and was in a critical condition. The hospital couldn’t handle the case and this man tried for about a week to find a hospital that would accept and treat the baby, but all refused him because he didn’t have enough money. Upon reading the text message, I immediately contacted my colleague, who then contacted the man, the head of Jakarta’s Health Department and some hospitals. The baby immediately received care and survived.

Many people doubt the new odd-even car plate rule will work. What is your opinion?

The policy won’t work unless the public transportation system is ready to handle people who can’t drive to work as a result of the odd-even rule. While I believe a radical and possibly unpopular approach to solving congestion is needed, I have my personal doubts that the odd-even policy will work, given that many people carelessly break existing laws, let alone a new stringent policy. Oversight will be difficult.

What do you do in your spare time?

One of the things I do outside work is teach English to 40 children in a slum near Grogol twice a week. I’m trying to spend my Sundays mingling with that community.

What social change do you wish to create?

I would like to see the government be accountable and responsive to its people. The people need the assurance that the government will actually listen to them.

I also see social inequality as a problem. This is just an example, but I know many friends who have never used the public bus before or visited a slum voluntarily, and they will probably become future leaders in the government and the business sector. I worry that inequality has become structural. It is already acting as a barrier that tears down and weakens the society as a whole.

What’s next for you?

I’ve learned how an election is won, but I want to learn how to govern well once you’re sworn in. The City Hall experience has convinced me even more of the urgency of now. It bothers me to read and manage hundreds of complaints constantly but at the same time witness how slow, unimaginative and insensitive the bureaucracy can be at times.

I’m optimistic with the direction of the new government, but I believe more can be done. I plan to work for Ahok for the next one to two years, and then run for the Jakarta city council in 2014.