Wed, 25 Sep 2002

House endorses controversial Riau Islands bill amid opposition

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The House of Representatives (DPR) and the government endorsed on Tuesday a bill on the establishment of the Riau Islands province, ignoring the objections of the Riau provincial administration and legislative council.

The passage of the bill, again, was attended by only some 100 legislators, far below the required number of more than half of the House's 500 members.

While all nine factions in the House approved the bill, Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno was less than enthusiastic in accepting the bill.

He simply said that the government "appreciates and understands the decision that has been taken".

Opposition from the Riau administration and legislative council seems likely to delay the establishment of the new province, as the implementation of the bill will require their consent in order to separate the Riau Islands from the Riau administration.

Hari also said that further legal and technical preparation was necessary for the establishment of the new province.

This preparation would involve the central government and the provincial administration of Riau, he said.

"A government decree or further regulations are needed to implement the decision the legislators made today," Hari said in a speech accepting the endorsed bill.

During the speech, nearly 200 people from the Riau islands regency began to shout and wave Indonesian flags from the balcony of the meeting hall.

Huzrin Hood, the regent of Riau islands who attended the plenary meeting at the House, was busily receiving congratulatory calls over his cellular phones.

After the session, Hari said the establishment of the Riau Islands province depended on the Riau administration and legislative council, and "how long it would take them to prepare the Riau Islands to become an autonomous province".

Also, Hari said one regency, namely the natural-resources rich Natuna regency, had signaled its refusal to join the Riau Islands province.

According to the bill, the new province will consist of three regencies: Riau Islands, Batam and Natuna.

Tanjung Pinang on Bintan island will become the capital city of the new province.

Legislator Amin Aryoso, who chairs the special committee that deliberated the bill, said the establishment of the Riau Islands province should be understood as a means to strengthen national unity.

The proposal for the establishment of the province was controversial, having been initiated by legislators in response to demands from the people of Riau islands, a regency in Riau province.

Legislators announced the proposal at a House plenary meeting on June 12, 2000, and a special committee to deal with the matter was set up on July 3, 2000.

The bill was initially slated to be endorsed on July 19. However, it was postponed following opposition from the Riau administration and legislative council.

The Supreme Court then issued a legal opinion that the establishment of the Riau Islands province could proceed despite the opposition, allowing the House to press ahead for the passage of the bill.

Meanwhile, the head of the Regional Autonomy Advisory Council, Thabrani Rab, who is a Riau native, said he regretted the passage of the bill, which he said would encourage the establishment of even more provinces.

"If the government allows this to happen, 18 new provinces will emerge because they see there are no clear-cut rules on the establishment of a new regional administration," he said.

He said he would likely file suit against Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno, President Megawati Soekarnoputri and the House's special committee which deliberated the bill over the creation of the Riau Islands province.

Earlier in the day, the House endorsed a bill on presidential pardons, which will replace existing Law No. 3/1950, issued in the era of the United States of Indonesia (RIS).

Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra emphasized that presidential pardons should not be construed as the president interfering in the judicial process.

"A presidential pardon does not negate the guilt of the convicted," Yusril said.