The Jakarta Post
Sawahlunto mayor Amran Nur is a man who will probably do anything for his hometown.
Almost 10 years ago, he left his decades-old business in Jakarta, a comfortable life in the city and his golfing hobby, to return to his poverty-stricken hometown Sawahlunto nearly 90 kilometers from the West Sumatra capital of Padang.
During a short visit to the city, Amran surprisingly found that Sawahlunto, once a coal-mining city with a vibrant economy, had turned into a ghost town as depleting coal resources had forced local people to leave the city in search of better livelihoods.
“Sawahlunto was a lovely city back then. It was like a city in the Netherlands because a lot of foreigners lived there,” Amran reminisced about his hometown in the past.
Born in Sawahlunto, Oct. 13, 1945, Amran was a child of a local trader. He spent his childhood in the city, and after graduating from high school he moved to Bandung to enroll in the Bandung Institute of Technology before settling in
During Amran’s childhood, Sawahlunto was in its golden period, taking advantage of the robust coal industry. Things had changed drastically in the last 40 years, and when Amran visited his hometown again in early 2000, economic growth dipped to minus 6 percent.
Feeling the urge to save his hometown, Amran immediately accepted when the local legislature asked if his was willing to become the mayor in 2003 ( back then, local leaders were appointed by the legislature rather than elected ) even though his two daughters were against the move.
“Are you crazy?” the 66-year-old man said, quoting his children’s first response upon hearing his plan.
“I explained to them that I was born there and I was concerned about the city very much. Maybe I could help to improve it,” he said
With the blessings of his family, Amran became the mayor of Sawahlunto for the 2003-2008 term.
During his tenure, he made some marvelous achievements for the city, including revamping the town as a city of tourism. Tourism in West Sumatra had been usually associated with Padang or Bukit Tinggi, but under Amran’s leadership, Sawahlunto has risen to become one of top tourist destinations in the region.
Apart from tourism, Amran also managed to develop the city other’s potentials.
“I realized that so many deserted coal mining areas could be transformed into agricultural areas or plantations,” he said.
The local government even allocated a special budget to help citizens procure seeds and fertilizer for free.
“The money eventually goes back to them,” he said with a smile.
People’s welfare has been Amran’s top priority, which he has substantially improved with the development of tourism and farming. Rebounding from a negative economic growth rate in 2003, Sawahlunto now has the second-lowest level of poverty after Denpasar, Bali.
Amran’s other achievement was his success in eradicating illegal mining in the city. He proudly said that there had been no illegal mining operations in Sawahlunto since 2006.
Therefore, it was no surprise when Amran Nur was given a second term in 2008, this time by the people rather than the local legislature. He has won a number of awards for his good governance, including a recent honor presented by
national daily Republika.
With only less than a year remaining for him as the mayor, Amran still continues to dedicate his life and time to the people and the city of Sawahlunto.
In a recent interview with The Jakarta Post, Amran shared his plans to open a new museum and to build a sky lift for tourists to able to enjoy a panorama of the city from above. As the head of the Indonesian Heritage Cities Networks, he added that he also planned to continue refurbishing Sawahlunto’s old town district.
In addition to these new plans, Amran maintains a busy schedule traveling to Jakarta in relation to the region’s tourism promotion program.
Thanks to his hard work, Sawahlunto has been chosen as the starting point for the famous Tour de Singkarak cycling race in West Sumatra. The city is also the home of several popular festivals, including the Sawahlunto International Music Festival, which has been celebrated by musicians from around the globe from Hawaii to Somalia.
Sawahlunto’s next big event is a cultural performance in Jakarta to promote the region’s songket ( woven cloth ). The city administration has hired noted choreographer Hartati to handle the performance.
“I want to give added-value to our songket with this event,” he said of the event.
Despite his busy schedule, Amran says he still has the time to indulge himself in fun activities. After leaving golf, now his attention goes to playing bridge. The head of West Sumatra bridge association said that the card game had been his hobby since he was in college.
“It is just my way of killing time,” he says.
During his spare time, Amran also likes to play tennis or tend to the garden at his house.
When asked what he will do after his tenure ends, he answered that he wanted to enjoy life in his hometown.
He said he intends to take care of huge plantation and poultry farm on a two-hectare plot of land in Sawahlunto — a fitting plan for a man who has worked so hard to revitalize agricultural sector of his hometown.