OPINION: A renewed hope for Indonesia's Aceh province

HONG KONG (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Aceh administration must focus on education and provide students a chance for internships, domestically or in overseas.

Irwandi Yusuf won Aceh’s 2017 gubernatorial election after leading in the polls of the 2017 regional election. He was formally declared as the winner by the province’s election commission with 48 percent more votes over his opponent, Muzakkir Manaf. The Constitutional Court on Tuesday also rejected a challenge brought by his rival.

Irwandi is not a new figure for Acehnese or the central government. He is the first governor-elect after the 2005 peace agreement between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government, serving from 2007-2012.

Most of his supporters argued that Irwandi had demonstrated his credibility when he served as a governor by launching a series of programs. Two most notable initiatives are the Aceh Health Insurance (Jaminan Kesehatan Aceh) and the Aceh scholarship. Due to these endeavors, Aceh people now yearn for a progressive leader and pin their hopes on effective programs, particularly for human resources development and social welfare.

Still, more needs to be accomplished by the governor-elect. The bigger problem for Aceh today is the high rate of unemployment and poverty. Unemployment in Aceh stood at 8.13 percent, or 182,000 people, the four highest nationally, according to the February data of the Central Statistics Agency (BPS).

Furthermore, despite having many natural resources such as oil and gas, Aceh remains notoriously poor. A current report stated that Aceh is the second poorest province in Sumatra with 841.0000 of its population (16.43 percent) considered poor.

The special autonomy fund received between 2008 and 2015 amounting to at least Rp.42 trillion did not significantly decrease poverty rates in Aceh. Corruption and lack of transparency have become a major contribution to poverty. Social welfare is therefore a crucial homework for the governor-elect as well as law enforcement.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) also should put Aceh under close supervision, given the extraordinary level of corruption in the province.

Irwandi is seen as a capable figure, having graduated from the United States and with working experiences in several international organizations. As Acehnese, we expect him to improve the quality of human resources through education and training for the youth. He has proved his credibility as a leader in education through the Aceh Scholarship program. Thousands of Acehnese have been awarded the scholarships to pursue studies abroad, such the US, Australia, and European countries. As an awardee myself, I also feel huge benefits of the program.

During Irwandi’s period, the scholarships were also awarded to orphans, santri of dayah (students of traditional Islamic schools), and for aviation courses. The scholarship program should continue and prioritize more practical disciplines which will further benefit the management of Aceh’s natural resources of agriculture, fisheries, mining, and petroleum.

The government scholarship should also focus on the santri dayah or pesantren to provide them an opportunity to study and experience living overseas, for instance, in some European countries, Australia, and the US. This will provide an opportunity for them to be open-minded and learn about global perspectives to help them build a better and modern Aceh in the future.

Another important program in education and human resource development would be establishing more internship programs, domestic and abroad, for Acehnese youth. Through these programs, the youth could get more hands-on training, real experience, and mentoring opportunities, and later some could head their own small to medium-sized star-ups after returning to Aceh.

Equally important, internships would ease transition from being a student to entering the workplace, given personal growth experiences and exposure to different job opportunities, and hands-on opportunities to work with equipment and technology that may not be available in Aceh or Indonesia in general.

Particularly, internships would help Aceh’s government to prioritize indigenous Acehnese young men and women for employee positions in local industrial areas, including new special economic zones in North Aceh.

Irwandi has become the symbol for all Acehnese and a ray of hope for a new and modern Aceh. Acehnese expect that all the 15 programs promised by Irwandi and his deputy governor Nova Iriansyah during the campaigns would be fully implemented.

Hopefully, with a new provincial leader and remarkable programs, a dream of a new and modern Aceh will hopefully come true in the coming years.

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The writer is a researcher at the Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong

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