Three years ahead of Governor race, possible candidates already surface

Bumpy ride: A truck drives along a dirt track in Bulungan regency. The new North Kalimantan province is hoping to speed up development in regions that lack infrastructure. JP/Prodita Sabarini
Bumpy ride: A truck drives along a dirt track in Bulungan regency. The new North Kalimantan province is hoping to speed up development in regions that lack infrastructure. JP/Prodita Sabarini

The election of the governor of North Kalimantan province is still three years away, but names are already being bounced around for the first elected leader of the new province.

Golkar party chief in Nunukan regency Ngatidjan Ahmadi said on Wednesday that his party had three names that they saw as strong candidates to support. “Jusuf SK, former mayor of Tarakan; Martin Bila****, former regent of Malinau and Anang Dahlan, former regent of Bulungan,” he said.

Jusuf Serang Kasim, a doctor who ran the Tarakan hospital before becoming mayor of Tarakan, is one of the driving forces behind North Kalimantan earning its provincial status. He founded Gerakan Kaltara Bersatu (the United North Kalimantan Movement) to intensify lobbying for North Kalimantan at the House of Representatives. Local North Kalimantan political observer from Borneo University, Yahya Ahmad Zein, says that while the initiative to form a new province came from university students of North Kalimantan origin, Jusuf SK was the man who organized and unified the movement.

“He took over, so after he finished his term as mayor he started to strengthen the movement,” he said. Yahya said that people had been sporadically advocating provincial status for North Kalimantan. “There was the KNPI (Indonesian Youth Committee) and other organizations but after he took over, the campaign for North Kalimantan was more intense and organized,” he said.

Yahya says that due to Jusuf’s work in lobbying for North Kalimantan, he is currently very popular in the region. Another potential candidate, Martin Bila, a former Malinau regent, is known for his conservation activities as Malinau mayor. In 2007, he received the Kalpataru award from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his work in preserving the environment in Malinau. Jusuf SK also received the Kalpataru award in 2006 for preserving mangroves in Tarakan.

Ngatidjan added that the incumbent Bulungan regent Budiman Arifin might be a strong contender with the backing of the Democratic Party. Budiman however declined to comment on the gubernatorial election.

The law that endorsed the establishment of North Kalimantan as a new autonomous province mandated the Home Affairs Ministry to appoint an acting governor by July 2013 at the latest. The acting governor would then prepare for the 2014 legislative election while the gubernatorial election is scheduled for 2015, three years after the passing of the law.

Jusuf, with the Gerakan Kaltara Bersatu, and politicians that sit in the East Kalimantan council representing regions that are now part of North Kalimantan territory, plans to challenge the law that leaves the new province without a local council for a year and prolongs the time until the province has an autonomous administration to three years.

“By law North Kalimantan exists, but in reality it doens’t,” Yahya said regarding the North Kalimantan administrative arrangement. In fact voters in the regions of North Kalimantan are still included on the electoral roll for the East Kalimantan gubernatorial election in 2013.

Constitutional Court expert Ni’matul Huda said that each of the prospective challengers had a chance at winning, as quoted by radartarakan.co.id. She also questioned the accountability of the acting governor in managing the budget.

Ngatidjan said that the three-year hiatus could cause the political map to change ahead of the election.

Yahya also said that it was too early to predict the candidates that would run for governor.

Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, Bulungan | Reportage | Mon, January 28 2013

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