‘Stop thinking we are rich’: Kutai Kartanegara regent

Rita Widyasari: (JP/Prodita Sabarini)
Rita Widyasari: (JP/Prodita Sabarini)

The media likes to dub East Kalimantan regency Kutai Kartanegara as the richest in the country.

At a glance it appears as if it is; the region lies on the former Kutai Kartanegara sultanate and is assigned the biggest regional budget. In 2013, Kutai Kartanegara will have Rp 7.5 trillion (US$776.79 million) to spend, around 33 percent higher than 2012’s budget of Rp 5 trillion.

Moreover, the area is rich in coal, with more than 1.2 million hectares of its land allocated to more than 680 mining concessions.

Yet, its regent, the feisty 39-year-old Rita Widyasari, the former local council speaker, refused to call her regency “rich”. It was actually her father, former graft convict and regent Syaukani Hasan Rais, who made Indonesians aware of Kutai Kartanegara’s wealth when he announced free health and education services. Syaukani’s legacy was tarnished when he was implicated in a corruption case that involved Rp 103.5 billion in funds and sentenced to six years by the Supreme Court. He received a controversial presidential pardon and served only three years.

In her residence in Tenggarong, Kutai Kartanegara’s center of governance, Rita, once a fellow at Harvard University’s Executive Education Training program, was seated on a brown leather sofa. Her young daughter runs around the room.

Rita, who took office in 2010, said that she was well aware of the wealth of natural resources that her regency holds. The regency produces around 70 million tons of coal per year, nearly half of East Kalimantan’s coal production.

Kutai Kartanegara’s budget, she said, was “incomparable with the sheer size of the region”.

“Before I became regent Samarinda had a budget of Rp 1.8 trillion for 700 square kilometers. We have Rp 5 trillion [in 2012’s regional budget] and we’re 27,000 square meters, 39 times bigger than Samarinda!” she said.

“We should have their budget of 1.8 [trillion rupiahs] times 39 and then we can build infrastructure that’s connected like Samarinda,” said Rita. She was educated in Bandung’s Padjadjaran University in West Java, graduating in social sciences and continued a masters program at the Jend. Sudirman University in Purwokerto, Central Java.

Rita also compared Kutai Kartanegara to Surakarta, a mere 44 square kilometers.

“We are 600 times bigger than Surakarta whose infrastructure has been built already!” she said. Rita’s aide Abriyanto also pointed out that Kutai Kartanegara is 40 times the size of Jakarta.

Rita said that the argument that Kutai Kartanegara has a small population — little more than 600,000 people based on the 2010 census — was not strong enough.

“Our population is dispersed, so we have to build infrastructure to reach 1,000 people here, 1,000 people there. We have to connect districts and make resources closer to the people,” she said.
Source: East Kalimantan Statistics AgencySource: East Kalimantan Statistics Agency
With its huge size, Kutai Kartanegara still needs roads to link the different areas. Rita said that only
40 percent of their roads were in good condition.

The other 30 percent are in bad condition and the rest are in dire condition, she said.

“I’ve calculated the cost to build roads and connect the entire regency. It’s Rp 65 trillion,” she said.

Rita said that the regency was still overly dependent on non-renewable resources.

Abriyanto, said that in the long term, Kutai Kartanegara was to be the center of agricultural products — an alternative to non-renewable resources.

The regency is allocating 10,000 hectares of land to develop cassava farms with farmers. Cassava can be made into ethanol and tapioca flour. Abriyanto said that Kutai wanted to fill the gap in Indonesia’s cassava shortage. He said that the farmers involved in this program would have a say in the industry as well as 10 percent of the shares in the industry.

Meanwhile, regarding investing in human capital, Rita created the program “One teacher, One laptop” to assist teachers. Some 13,000 teachers were given laptop notebooks. The total cost for the program was Rp 83 billion.

“If they are able to work faster and prepare classes better with the laptop, then the quality of teaching will be better and children will learn more,” she said.

She said that because many of Kutai Kartanegara’s residents are isolated and still lack access to roads it was not yet appropriate to call the regency rich.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said.

— JP/Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman, Tenggarong

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Thu, January 17 2013

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