A new province is born

Waterways: A long boat glides along the Sekatak River in Bulungan regency. River passage is the main transportation choice in North Kalimantan, as the new province still lacks good roads. JP/Prodita Sabarini
Waterways: A long boat glides along the Sekatak River in Bulungan regency. River passage is the main transportation choice in North Kalimantan, as the new province still lacks good roads. JP/Prodita Sabarini

Indonesia’s newest province is North Kalimantan, carved out of one of the nation’s richest provinces, East Kalimantan. The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman report from Bulungan regency, the home of its future capital. 

To the north of East Kalimantan, bordering the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, a new province — Indonesia’s 34th — is in the making.

North Kalimantan was born after the gavel was pounded at a plenary meeting of the House of Representatives in Jakarta in October.

A little over two months later, across the sea around 1,500 kilometers from the capital, there are few signs of the province’s existence. In Tanjung Selor, the capital of Bulungan and the proposed provincial capital, a sign in front of the old regent’s office reads: “Preparations for the North Kalimantan Gubernatorial Office”. The office is a simple low-rise yellow building.

The House bill that authorized the creation of North Kalimantan mandated the home minister to prepare governmental infrastructure and to appoint an acting governor within nine months.

Bulungan Regent Budiman Arifin said that the acting governor would have their office in the yellow building, which sits on about 1.6 hectares in the city. “It will be up to the new governor if they want like to renovate it,” he said.

North Kalimantan’s establishment came as a surprise: A government issued moratorium on the formation of new autonomous regions in 2009 was effectively flouted by the House. The last province to be established before North Kalimantan was West Sulawesi in 2004, but new regencies continued to be created. The government wanted to halt the creation of new provinces and regencies as the process had been prone to conflict. In 2009, for example, angry protesters barged into the North Sumatra Legislative Council’s chambers, demanding that the body approve the formation of the province of Tapanuli. The council speaker’s Abdul Aziz Angkat, died of a heart attack out of shock.

North Kalimantan comprises four regencies — Bulungan, Nunukan, Malinau and Tana Tidung — and Tarakan city.

In early January, the regents and the mayor visited Samarinda for events marking the 56th anniversary of East Kalimantan. Budiman, who was at the event, said he was wistful and relieved at the same time. “This will be our last time going to Samarinda for the anniversary. Next year, we will be celebrating our own.”

Tarakan mayor Udin Hianggio says the history of North Kalimantan began 12 years ago, when a group of university students hailing from the northern part of East Kalimantan, who were studying in Malang, East Java, launched an initiative to separate from East Kalimantan.

Back then, oil-rich Berau regency, which also includes the popular tourist destination of Derawan, was to have been the cornerstone of the new province. Berau was eventually kept within East Kalimantan.

Regional leaders and civil society groups met regularly to prepare their request to establish a new autonomous region. They established an association of regional leaders and a lobbying group headed by former Tarakan mayor Jusuf SK.

“This has been a long struggle,” mayor Udin said, “Praise God, [the new province] is now passed as law.”

The House mandated that a budget for North Kalimantan’s operations and elections be allocated by the East Kalimantan provincial administration and the four affected regency administrations. East Kalimantan has been pegged to provide Rp 300 billion for the new province; Bulungan regency, Rp 50 billion.

The rationale behind the creation of a new province, Budiman said, was administrative ease. East Kalimantan was previously the nation’s second-largest province in terms of area after Papua. Officials in the northern part of East Kalimantan had to take boats, planes and a bumpy day’s car ride to Samarinda, East Kalimnatan’s provincial seat.

Budiman said that having the provincial capital in the north would speed administration, speed progress and speed the elimination of poverty. The regions in the north were the poorest in resource-rich East Kalimantan, lacking infrastructure while featuring double-digit poverty rates. Malinau was the worst off, recording a poverty rate of 15.31 percent in 2010, according to the East Kalimantan Statistics Agency.

Another reason to form a new province was to better secure Indonesian territory that borders Malaysia. In 2002, Indonesia lost a legal battle with its neighbor to keep Sipadan and Ligitan Islands in the Makassar Strait. Lawmaker Agun Gunandjar Sudarsa of House Commission II on regional autonomy said that the establishment of North Kalimantan would secure the loyalties of Indonesians living on the Malaysian border.

“We saw the history of how our country lost Sipadan-Ligitan [islands,” Udin said. “That’s an example [of the effect] of an area which is too vast.”

However, critics say that establishment of new autonomous regions has been costly, claiming that a lack of capacity has meant that new regions have failed to improve the people’s welfare.

According to the Home Ministry, 57 of 205 autonomous regions established between 1999 and 2004 have failed to increase welfare or public service. The Home Ministry now regularly evaluates these new provinces, regencies and municipalities, which it can order to be reintegrated with their original regions if found wanting.

Budiman, however, is certain that North Kalimantan will be able to serve its people. “Many of the new regions that resulted from decentralization in East Kalimantan have succeeded, starting from Tarakan, Malinau regency, Nunukan, West Kutai, East Kutai, Bontang, Penajam, and Tana Tidung regency,” he said.

All the regions in North Kalimantan were once a vastly larger Bulungan regency. Tarakan, Malinau. Nunukan, Tana Tidung were part of Bulungan until they became autonomous.

He said that the human resources to staff the new province were available in Bulungan and the other regencies.

The staff and acting governor of North Kalimantan are currently staffed by appointments from the ministry. “The acting governor will not open all the [provincial] agencies yet, only the vital ones, such as those for public works, health agency, etc….,” Budiman said.

To anticipate the flow of migrants coming to Bulungan as Tanjung Selor becomes the provincial capital, access to clean water and other services would be increased, Budiman said. He added that he would work with the state electricity company PLN to increase the power supply in the region.

“More people will come here as we become a new province. We have to be ready for that,” he said.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Mon, January 28 2013

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