Wed, 22 Nov 2000

House approves new province of Bangka-Belitung islands

JAKARTA (JP): Less than two months after Banten province was formed, the House of Representatives passed on Tuesday a bill giving Bangka-Belitung islands off South Sumatra new status as a province.

In a plenary session presided over by House Deputy Speaker Soetardjo Soerjogoeritno, factions in the House gave their unanimous support for the bill.

If the bill is enacted into law by President Abdurrahman Wahid or within 30 days if the President fails to do so, Bangka- Belitung will become de jure the country's 31st province.

Panda Nababan, the chairman of the House special committee deliberating the bill, hailed its passage, saying it was the best solution to break the two islands' isolation.

"From now on the two islands' future depends more on locals and their political elite. The new province is rich with natural resources and has qualified workers to explore those resources to improve the welfare of the people," he said.

All the 11 factions at the House supported the development of the new province but called for a fair election of a governor to avoid a possible split among the people of the two islands.

"The provincial status should accelerate economic development on the two islands and improve the locals' political awareness. The new law must reflect the people's political commitment to achieve progress, especially because of the new province's strategic position in the Malacca Straits," Didi Supriyanto, spokesman for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction, said.

Hundreds of Bangka and Belitung residents of Chinese and Malay descent, who were present at the plenary session, cried in joy as Soetardjo banged the gavel to seal the session. Some of the crowd chanted a Malay song while others performed a Chinese barongsai dance, drawing attention from legislators who attended the plenary session.

"It's a historic day for the people of Bangka and Belitung since we have struggled for a separate province since 1956," a resident exclaimed.

Minister of Home Affairs and Regional Autonomy Surjadi Soedirdja, who along with Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra, represented the government in the plenary meeting.

Surjadi said the government would appoint an acting governor to run an interim provincial administration before a permanent governor would be elected.

"The acting governor's main tasks will be to run a temporary provincial administration and facilitate the development of a provincial legislative council, which will be expected to elect a new permanent governor," he said.

He said the acting governor, along with the provincial legislative council, was expected to draw up the new province's draft budget for the 2001 fiscal year so that the development of the new province could be completed next year.

Surjadi said the establishment of Banten province's administration was expected to continue smoothly as the government had appointed Hakamuddin Djamal as acting governor to prepare the provincial administration's network.

Asked to comment on the plan for a Riau (Kepri) archipelago province, the minister said the central government would give a positive response to the House's initiative to propose a bill on its development.

"The House should lobby intensively with Riau province's administration and provincial legislature to win their support for the bill on the Riau archipelago province as it is required by the 1999 Regional Autonomy Law," he said.

The bill proposed by the House has met with opposition from the Riau provincial administration and legislature. (rms)