Sinyo Harry Sarundajang: The man who brought the world to Manado

Oleh: Primastuti Handayani , The Jakarta Post (Fri, 05/15/2009)

SHSGive the right man the right weapon and you are assured of victory: This claim provides an apt description of the achievement of Sinyo Harry Sarundajang in bringing into being the first ever World Ocean Conference (WOC) and the Coral Triangle Initiative Summit on Coral Reefs, Fisheries
and Food Securities (CTI-CFF).

It was not an easy achievement, though.

Months after he was elected as governor of North Sulawesi, in the province’s first direct gubernatorial election, Sarundajang had to deal with the fallout of the government’s decision to nearly double the fuel price in late 2005.

“During a meeting with the government, governors from all provinces were told to make a breakthrough to help ease the burden on people created by the fuel price hike,” he told The Jakarta Post in an interview at his official residence in the Bumi Beringin area on Tuesday.

The gubernatorial residence sits on top of a hill – the highest spot in Manado – where it looks over some of the best scenery the area has on offer, facing the Gulf of Manado with the famous Bunaken Island as the backdrop.

During the interview, squeezed into his tight schedule, Sarundajang said that “trust and recognition” were the keys that helped him move forward with his ocean conference idea.

“When meeting with President SBY [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] during his visit to Manado in February 2006, I explained to him the idea and the president welcomed it and supported it,” he said.

As always, it was easier said than done. So Sarundajang began his quest to various international conferences concerning the environment – and especially climate change – to assure the world that Manado would be the right place to host the WOC and, most importantly, would be ready.

A presidential decree issued in 2007 became the grounds for Sarundajang to start the hard work. He invited the private sector to work together to prepare the necessary infrastructure. Eight hotels were built, including a convention center, to host the event. As well as hosting the WOC and CTI Summit this week, Manado has also been hosting a series of symposiums and exhibitions on ocean-related issues.

“The national organizing committee [of the WOC] invited 121 countries to attend the event, and [representatives from] some 80 countries arrived here. That is not bad at all,” he said.

“For me, now, the WOC is over. It’s now over to the delegates [to discuss the substance of the WOC/CTI].”

For Manado, it is over too. “The question is: What next? What will happen to the eight hotels that were already built?”

With the province’s potential for tourism, fisheries and agriculture, Sarundajang hopes to increase the area’s revenue from marine tourism. Located within the Coral Triangle, North Sulawesi is just one of the provinces in Indonesia that offer beautiful coral reefs, equal to Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi and Raja Ampat in Papua.

“Bunaken is famous among domestic and foreign divers but that’s not the only potential we have,” the governor said. “North Sulawesi also offers Lembeh Island and Siladen Island.”

Transforming Manado into a venue to host the 1,300 delegates from more than 80 countries was not an easy task. Human resources and infrastructure proved to be the main challenges. During the main events, related institutions worked hard to ensure that electricity and Internet access were available in all venues and transportation was not disrupted.

Despite some hiccoughs, Sarundajang is optimistic that he can make North Sulawesi into a viable alternative to Bali as a MICE (Meeting, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) province, although he concedes his plan to “make North Sulawesi the second Bali” has its limitations.

“But we can’t compete with Bali,” he said. “Our potential is just 10 percent of Bali’s.”

To support his ambition, the North Sulawesi administration has scheduled “Sail Bunaken” from Aug. 12 to 20 this year. Jointly organized by the tourism and marine affairs ministries and the Indonesian Navy, the event will feature fleet and tall ships.

For Sarundajang, his other piece of homework now is working out how to attract one million tourists to his province.

“The question is how we can attract tourists. We have potential markets in Singapore and Malaysia, and therefore we have direct flights to and from both countries. We also have an eye on Australia as another potential market,” he said.

Born on Jan. 16, 1945, in Kawangkoan, Minahasa (one of North Sulawesi’s 11 regencies and four municipalities), Sarundajang does not think of himself as a beach boy.

“I wasn’t born on the beach. Kawangkoan is located in the hill area. But I know about the sea better because I served as mayor of Bitung for 14 years,” he said, referring to the seaport city that is another important hub for North Sulawesi.

Despite his tight schedule as a governor, the husband of Deitje Tambuwun said he tried to spend his spare time snorkeling and diving, as part of his respect and love for
the ocean.

“We have to realize that the ocean has given people a livelihood,” he said. “Therefore, we must remember that the ocean is people’s future.”

Career highlights
1986–2000: Mayor of Bitung
2000: Acting governor of Maluku
2001–2005: Inspector general
at the Home Ministry
2002: Acting governor of North Maluku
2005–present: Governor of North Sulawesi

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