thumbnail text

Tomihisa Taue

mayor of Nagasaki, Japan

Stooping to pat a bewildered penguin on the head and flashing a dazzling smile at the waiting press pack, Tomihisa Taue looks every inch the local mayor. But beneath the parochial façade of his aquarium photo op, the mayor of Nagasaki is attempting to pioneer a new way of governing that brings the power back to the people.

From “noodle meetings” with locals to city hall departments devoted to “empowering” residents, Taue is intent on creating a community capable of bringing about its own changes. “People are starting to realise that this is their own town and are starting to get involved in improvements. This is how things should work,” he says.

Wedged between mountains on the southern island of Kyushu, Nagasaki is home to an ageing population that totals a smudge under half a million. But despite its diminutive size, the port was one of the few places open to the outside world when Japan locked its doors for more than two centuries. Mention of the city also invariably evokes the memory of the 1945 nuclear bomb that was dropped here.

But since coming to power two years ago, Taue, a youthful 53-year-old father of two, has been masterminding a change in mentality among residents. “In Japan, the accepted idea has always been that areas of public interest should be dealt with by the government,” he says over green tea in the city hall. “That idea has been very strong among people for a long time. But we have realised that this has not been working. It’s better that we do things ourselves sometimes. In Nagasaki people are already beginning to think that way and things are really starting to change.”

Taue has created two new departments dedicated to empowering the citizens and his 4,000-strong local government workforce. He conducts informal meetings with the community, NPOs and business leaders (often over local “champon” noodles), has created a dedicated email hotline for staff to contact him and joins staff for lunch in the canteen. Tourism is also part of his masterplan to raise the profile of the city – by regenerating historic areas and targeting wealthy Chinese tourists. One recent addition to the Nagasaki landscape is a minimalist Kengo Kuma-designed hotel cut into the mountainside, which overlooks the bay (see our travel supplement).

Security is also high on the agenda for Taue: his two immediate predecessors were both shot – the most recent attack was fatal. So as well as 24-hour guards at his home, Taue is not allowed to catch the bus to work or walk the streets of Nagasaki on his own – much to his dismay (the last time he sneaked out for a solitary walk, a member of the public called the police).

But hectic schedules and security limitations have not diminished his ambitions. His recent high-profile proposal is for Nagasaki to run as an Olympic host city alongside Hiroshima for the 2020 Games. “Nagasaki has been promoting making the world nuclear-weapon free for more than half a century,” he says. “The victims of the attack do not want other people to experience the same pain. They do not want their children to be at risk of the same horrors. The Olympics is an opportunity to get this message out to a wider audience,” he says.

“Of course there are some people questioning whether we can do this,” he adds. “But the important thing is for us – as a community – to give it a go.”

Issam Shammas - Raïs of Rabieh, Lebanon

Rabieh is Lebanon’s answer to Beverly Hills. Tucked in the hills overlooking Beirut, its list of residents reads like Who’s Who, with ex-ministers, business tycoons, the central bank governor and world-famous singer Fairuz all living here. Issam Shammas, a British-educated civil engineer and a collector of vintage cars, is Rabieh’s Raïs al Baladiyeh – the municipality’s president. His father, Shukri, bought the scenic hill with a group of partners in the 1950s, turning it into a property venture and selling plots of land to the rich and famous eager to move away from Beirut’s hustle and bustle.

The town was soon made a municipality, with Shukri as its first mayor. When he passed away, residents came knocking at his son’s door. Though he lived in England with his British wife and children, they demanded his return. “They wanted nobody else and pleaded with me,” he says. In 1998, Shammas ran for elections, “and since there was no other contender, I won.” He has been the patriarch ever since.

Rabieh has the highest municipal taxes in Lebanon (roughly $46 per square meter built) and the most successful collection rate, with 95 per cent paying their dues. Obviously, people like the service. Some 4,000 mostly Christian residents live in this island of peace, which takes pride in having the best road, light, sewage and security systems in the country. “When you drive into Rabieh you immediately feel the difference. It’s cleaner, greener, even the houses are prettier,” says Shammas, who banned commercial buildings and billboards and established his own construction rules. As Raïs, he comes to the municipality twice a week to meet with his nine-member council, of which three are women – again a national record. “We also have an Armenian, but he never comes.” The atmosphere here is relaxed “with a touch of benevolent dictatorship,” adds Shammas, who cites New York’s Rudolf Giuliani and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew as role models.

Though it has tried hard to stay away from politics, the municipality’s main problem these days is dealing with the resident politicians. The most famous, General Michel Aoun, a Christian leader and Hezbollah ally, is blocking access to his villa and stopping neighbours from developing their land. “This kind of behaviour leaves a sour taste in everybody’s mouth,” says Shammas, who confesses he dislikes conflict. Aoun is not his only problem. “The secret service has just asked us to set up CCTV cameras everywhere and accommodate their guards.”

Moïse Katumbi - Governor of Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Halfway through his interview with Monocle, Governor Moïse Katumbi stops to read a text message. “A generator has broken down in Kalemie,” he says, referring to a town about 800km from the Lubumbashi base. “I’ll tell them to fix it as soon as possible and to let me know if they need spare parts.” It would take six days and a trip across Lake Tanganyika to get there.

The governor of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is responsible for a province roughly the size of France. There the similarities end. Katanga has few roads, high levels of poverty and war on its doorstep in the Kivu provinces. In the three years he has ruled, Katumbi, a charismatic 45-year-old businessman, has begun turning things around. Roads have been built to the southern border with Zambia, and the mining industry – ruined by decades of corruption – has been revived.

Businessmen, both Congolese and foreign, praise him generously in public and modestly in private. He is greeted warmly when he drives around Lubumbashi in his three-car convoy. One recent morning, he inaugurated the revamp of the state pension fund building, oversaw the building of a 17km stretch of road and visited a new hostel for street children.

The word “democratic” in Congo’s official title is still more of an expression of hope than a statement of fact. The first real elections were held in 2006. Katumbi notes with pride that he won with 98.8 per cent. He operates like a village chief writ large, his hand never far from a pocket that liberally doles out $100 bills to staff and citizens who ask for his help.

Katumbi aims to visit every part of the province at least once a year, sometimes driving his white Toyota Landcruiser. “I can go by helicopter or plane, but I want to see how people are suffering. Some places are very horrible,” he says. Most of the time, though, he travels by plane, leasing a luxury seven-seater Hawker Siddeley at $6,000 an hour. His driveway is filled with expensive new Audis, BMWs and Mercedes, and a pyramid of emerald-green malachite stands in the middle of his reception room. As he shows Monocle around his home, he keeps one eye on a giant plasma screen broadcasting the local news, pausing when there is an item about him. As Katumbi owns the television station, this happens quite a lot.

Katumbi also owns the local football club, TP Mazembe. He takes a similarly hands-on approach to football, leading the half-time team talk and offering thousands of dollars of his own money in win bonuses. He plays tennis every morning on his private court. Six members of his staff operate as ball boys and umpire. A wall along two sides of the court is decorated with a mural depicting Katumbi’s life, showing him on a jet ski, fighting off a crocodile and hitting an ace. By 8am he is in his office. He has a cabinet of 10 ministers and a vice-governor who meet him twice a week. He also has an informal cabinet of advisers from foreign and local companies.

Throughout the day he uses his Nokia 9300 to reply to messages and emails, but he has another phone too – which only one person has the number for. “Your wife?” I ask. “No, the boss,” he replies, referring to President Joseph Kabila.

A biography of John F Kennedy and Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope sit in a cabinet beside his desk. “They are my heroes,” he says. He struggles to name any African leaders he admires, eventually picking out “that lady in Liberia” (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) and, naturally, “my boss”. He is adamant that once his time is up, he will move on. “I don’t agree with the leader who stays long. That is what is killing Africa. They have to change that mentality.”

Edgar Bonilla - Mayor of Garzon, Colombia

One afternoon last May, 12 guerrillas from The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) stormed into Garzon’s city hall while a council meeting was in full swing. Disguised as government soldiers, the Farc killed four people and kidnapped one councillor. Luckily for Edgar Bonilla, the mayor of this town 450km south of Bogotá, he was away on business.

Nestled among traditional guerrilla strongholds, Garzon is vulnerable to attacks. “The [council meeting] attack shattered confidence among potential investors and the community,” says Bonilla. “We’ve got to rebuild our good image.” Despite the incident, Bonilla, 43, remains upbeat and defiant. It hasn’t changed the way he goes about his daily business and he refuses to be office-bound during his four-year term.

A former agronomist and government environmental adviser, Bonilla prefers to meet locals at market stalls and in the town square, rather than answering emails from his laptop or BlackBerry.

The touchy-feely mayor, who was elected almost two years ago, sees his job as a vocation to serve the community. “You’ve got to work closely with communities. It’s important not to build a wall between you and them,” Bonilla says. Like all mayors in areas prone to guerrilla attacks, he has heavy-duty security. Two plain-clothes armed police bodyguards follow his every step and he travels in an armoured car. Bonilla and his councillors sometimes wear bullet-proof jackets, though he refuses to carry a gun. When visiting remote farming communities at the weekends, Bonilla travels behind an army convoy flanked by three police motorbikes. “If something happened to me it would be bad publicity for the government,” he says.

Along with a treasurer, personal secretary and three lawyers on call, Bonilla runs the municipality of 75,000 people with the guidance of 15 elected councillors, of whom two are women. They hold four month-long council meetings a year, mainly to review the annual $13m (€8.6m) budget. Being born in Colombia is the only requisite needed to become the town’s mayor. “As long as you get the votes,” Bonilla says, “you can be illiterate and still be mayor."

Mikheil Saakashvili - President of Georgia

As the helicopter flies low along the shoreline of the Black Sea city of Batumi, Mikheil Saakashvili points out a row of new buildings, gesticulating wildly and shouting proud descriptions of each one over the roaring engines. The Georgian president likes to impress his guests. When Monocle visited, what was billed as an interview suddenly turned into a two-day roadshow, taking in three cities, several meals and plenty of opportunities to see “Misha”, as everybody calls him, close up. Unlike other dour, Soviet throwback presidents, the architect of 2003’s Rose Revolution fizzes with enthusiasm, pouring out words in lightly accented English, and occasionally bursting into free, high-pitched laughter verging on manic. Saakashvili insists his fervour is simply Georgian.

“People in Europe don’t like passionate people. I read adjectives like ‘hot-headed’, ‘volatile’ or ‘tumultuous’ all the time,” he says in his office in the recently opened presidential palace, which dominates Tbilisi’s skyline. “But it’s one style to be German or Norwegian and another to be Georgian. If I spoke like a German, nobody would listen.”

We’re shown around the palace, which has a glass dome evoking the new Reichstag, and was designed by Michele de Lucchi, an Italian architect. Saakashvili’s office is done out in light woods and lined with shelves of books, mostly on governance, regional history and contemporary architecture.

The next day, we return in the early afternoon (meetings often happen well after midnight but rarely before lunchtime), and enjoy wine and cheese with the president and his Dutch wife, who are chatting to Georgia’s new ambassador to Germany. After lunch it’s into the motorcade and off to the airport. The convoy consists of two armoured Mercedes S600 limousines with two Land Cruisers at each end. Together with an eight-man security detail, we board a Mi-8 helicopter. There’s a stop in wine country, where the president has an al fresco meeting with 15 villagers. Also in attendance is the agriculture minister, who is just 28 and looks even younger. At 41, Saakashvili is one of the oldest members of his government; youth has always been its defining characteristic. “Not only did he not serve in the Soviet government,” – he says of his agriculture minister – “he doesn’t even remember it.”

The president has a small team of advisers, some of them foreign, who work closely with him on policy. “The people around me can swear and yell at me and I won’t be offended. I prefer people who are honest than those who flatter.” His critics in the opposition accuse him of just the opposite, which he insists is reflective of the progress he has made: “Once it becomes fashionable for young people to lambast the government, you know that things are working well.”

Throughout the helicopter rides Saakashvili is compulsively tapping at the keys of his mobile. “I often exchange numbers with people, and have regular SMS conversations,” he says. He prefers text messages to email. “I was on Facebook for a while but I retreated from that,” he says. He also admits to being a compulsive Googler. “In childhood, during the Soviet times, I prized every western newspaper,” he says, now relaxing on the balcony of the presidential suite in Batumi’s top hotel. “When I first moved to New York I’d get up at 04.00 just to get the New York Times.” Though since last summer’s war with Russia, he says he has grown disillusioned with some foreign press, thinking it “superficial, malicious and wrong at times”.

After the interview we dash through the hotel corridors and it’s on to dinner at a top Batumi restaurant, with a European billionaire and his advisers, looking to invest in the city. Saakashvili answers their questions and gives an impassioned outline of his vision for a modern Georgia. They are impressed with the show, and seem likely to act on it.

The following day, we take in lunch at his residence outside the city, before hopping back on the chopper. There’s a brief stop in Georgia’s second city, Kutaisi, for the opening of a church. Then it’s back to Tbilisi. Amid the usual frenzied shouting from the security detail, he jumps off the helicopter for a final time, darts into a car, and the convoy speeds off.

Christian Ude - Lord Mayor of Munich

Christian Ude works very long days. He’s usually in his office at the city hall at 08.00 and gets home after 23.00. This may be one of Germany’s fastest moving, modern cities, but its 62-year-old mayor is a fan of doing things the old fashioned way. He starts his day reading all the newspapers – some at home and the rest once he gets to the office. Surrounded by papers, he sips tea from a Thermos flask as he reads. There is one personal item in the room – a chest of drawers that belonged to his father.

The spacious office overlooks central Marienplatz and Ude has lined it with local 20th-century paintings. There is a large red painting by Rupprecht Geiger (the mayor’s Social Democrat Party colour is red), a portrait and a still life by Gabriele Münter and a piece by Herbert Achternbusch, a subversive avant garde artist.

He keeps in touch with all his department heads in a weekly meeting held in a room hung with Achternbusch watercolours. What’s noticeable about the meeting is how low-tech it is. There are no laptops and no fiddling with BlackBerrys. Ude takes notes with his Waterman fountain pen (there’s an official minute taker too). On publicity matters, Ude has a policy of answering all press requests within the hour. “I know how important it is to explain background and motivation of political decisions to the people,” says Ude, who started out as a journalist at Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The mayor holds annual open councils in each of the 25 municipal districts, where attendees can complain and comment on everything from slow train connections to the airport to rising prices at the Oktoberfest. And now people can also put questions to the mayor via the city website, where readers are asked to rate the most interesting questions. Every two weeks, Ude personally answers the three most-voted for questions. Otherwise though, the mayor is not really a hi-tech person. He uses a computer for emails, but dictates his letters.

In a typical week he attends 25 conferences. His secret to keeping up the pace is a small room at the back of his office set up for cat naps and power showers. “Here I freshen up before evening events,” he says: “Also I can briefly relax on the sofa between two appointments ... though unfortunately there’s rarely time to do so.”

Marketta Kokkonen - Mayor of Espoo, Finland

Outside of Finland, few people have probably heard of Espoo, a town of 240,000 people 15-minutes drive from Helsinki. However, they may have heard of the companies based here: Nokia, Kone, Fortum. It’s not surprising, then, that partnerships and business thinking play a significant role in how the city is governed.

Espoo is run by Marketta Kokkonen who has been the mayor since 1995. Under her mandate, many of the city’s services have been privatised. “Cooperation and network-building with partners is a much bigger part of my job than it used to be,” she says. “We buy a lot of services from the market, for instance day care and construction, and the city doesn’t even own much land.”

Typically, Kokkonen starts her day at 07.30 and finishes 12 hours later. Her days are full of meetings with politicians and partners at the city hall. Many evenings are spent at events, representing or meeting citizens. Communication is a key word in her management style, be it face-to-face or virtual. Her most invaluable colleague is, naturally, her Nokia Communicator.

“I’ve got everything there, from e-mails and text messages to my calendar, and it goes wherever I go. Today, a big part of the discussion has moved into the web,” she says. “We’re also in the process of moving many of the city’s services to the internet, instead of sending paper forms around.

The Finnish management style is often referred to as “management by perkele”, which loosely translates as “management by the devil”. The practice usually involves an authoritative (male) boss who keeps his workers in check by spreading fear. This style is not Kokkonen’s. “You must have a clear strategy and vision, of course. But success depends on how well you manage to encourage people and give them freedom to act independently,” she says.

A woman is a rarity among Finland’s mayors, but Kokkonen hasn’t let stereotypes hinder her. “In the 1970s, when I was starting my career, the men sometimes thought that I was there to serve them coffee. But that was a long time ago.”

Tim Johnson - US Representative, Illinois

US Representative Tim Johnson has decorated his suite with all the trappings of the typical congressional office – a collection of medals, framed photos with ex-presidents and a wall map of his central Illinois district – but he still does not feel particularly comfortable here. On a recent day, after sitting for 90 minutes in a fourth-floor Agriculture Committee hearing room, Johnson and a staffer descended the nearest stairway, exited the building and crossed the street into a park. There Johnson settled into his favourite work position: upright and walking in circles.

“We’ve gotten so used to doing everything by ‘sitting down,’ that we forget we can be just as productive – in fact, more productive – by killing two birds with one stone,” says Johnson, parading briskly with the Capitol dome behind him. “We lose innumerable opportunities to stay fit and still do our job.”

Johnson has found a way to adjust nearly every aspect of the congressman’s job to his mobile metabolism. Staff meetings and briefings are ambulatory, with aides rotating in and out en route in a manoeuvre they call “the relay”. (In bad weather, Johnson takes his laps through the fourth-floor corridors of his Longworth House Office Building.) He reads briefing books and amendments while on a stationary bike. Between votes on the House floor, Johnson rarely mingles with colleagues and instead patrols the Capitol Rotunda with a black Samsung mobile phone to his ear.

There he dials residents of his far-flung constituency, a sparsely populated rural district that requires half a day to traverse, to introduce himself and ask if there’s anything he can do for them. Johnson places between 75 and 300 of these calls a day, in a methodical sequence ordered by phone digits. He estimates that in his career he has personally contacted at least half of his roughly 650,000 constituents – in the free minutes each day when he might normally be bantering with colleagues or staff.

“I don’t think sitting in a room eating cheesy fries and drinking soda actually adds to my camaraderie,” says Johnson, a three-sport high-school athlete and serious swimmer, lifeguard and scuba-diver. “I have developed my life, and my job, around the fundamental concept that America is obese and overweight, and that it’s hurting America... I want to practise what I preach.”

Since entering the House in 2001, the former state legislator has made healthy living a legislative priority. He has pushed for health bills with tax credits for companies promoting employee fitness, agriculture bills qualifying organic products for federal food stamps, and transport bills with programmes encouraging children to walk to school. He has agitated for the federal government to post nutritional data in its cafeterias and build gyms at large office installations. Johnson chairs the committee that oversees the House gym, known as perhaps Capitol Hill’s best site for bipartisan collegiality.

In 2005, Johnson and a workout mate, New York Democrat Steve Israel, established a group called the Center Aisle Caucus to promote bipartisan civility. “We thought if everyone could get along so well in the gym, there’s no reason we couldn’t carry this over into the process,” says Johnson.

In a city where business is often done over cocktails at steakhouses, Johnson’s personal regimen is very ascetic. Johnson eats only one meal a day, prefers organic grains and berries, and endures a weekly 48-hour fast. When he does go out with colleagues, Johnson requests hot water and makes his own tea. “My constituents tell me,” Johnson says, “that I eat like a Democrat.”

29

December 2009

Issue 29, volume 3
p.195-209

Loading...

/

15

15

Live

00:0001:00

  • The Atlantic Shift