House passes bill on establishment of Banten province
JAKARTA (JP): Banten residents need only wait for President Abdurrahman Wahid's endorsement before they can declare themselves independent from West Java province.
Hundreds of supporters and residents inside and outside the plenary hall of the House of Representatives, which approved the establishment of Banten as a province on Wednesday, cheered after House Deputy Speaker Soetardjo Soerjogoeritno, who chaired the plenary session, rapped his gavel as a sign of approval.
"Thanks to the House members and the government for the completion of the bill. I also congratulate the people of Banten," Soetardjo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) said.
Constitutionally, the President should ratify the bill within 30 days after it is passed by the House. Banten will become the country's 28th province after North Maluku.
Minister of Home Affairs and Regional Autonomy Surjadi Soedirdja hailed the establishment of Banten province, saying that the whole process had the backing of the Banten community.
"The process has been very smooth and democratic. We hope that the establishment of Banten province will help improve the local people's welfare and develop a more democratic community," Surjadi said in the plenary session.
He said the support of the people was vital in order to avoid failure in the establishment of a new province, such as happened with the establishment of three provinces in Irian Jaya which was rejected by its people.
During Wednesday's session, all 10 factions of the House agreed on the establishment of Banten province.
The PDI Perjuangan faction agreed on the establishment of the province, but said that it should be within the framework of the Unitary State of Indonesia.
"The establishment of the province should avoid narrow ethnic sentiment and regionalism," the faction's spokesman, Yoseph Umarhadi, said.
He said the faction also hoped the establishment of the province would be followed with a democratization process at a local level and an improvement in public services.
The United Development Party (PPP) faction also welcomed the separation of Banten from West Java province, saying Banten's poverty was caused by geographical distance from the West Java capital.
"Poverty has only made the area the backyard of or an insignificant part of West Java," PPP faction spokesman Endin A.J. Soefihara said.
The administrative area of Banten, as it currently stands, occupies 8,200 square kilometers and has a population of over nine million. It has the poorest community in West Java.
Many claim the revenue from the Banten area, which has several huge industrial plants and tourist destinations, has been mostly absorbed by the West Java province and the central government.
Separately, Golkar Party legislator and Banten native Ekky Syachrudin said he would accept being nominated governor of the new province.
"It's only natural to want to better our position. I would not reject being chosen by the people," Ekky told reporters after the plenary session.
He urged Surjadi to soon appoint an acting governor for the province, and that the acting governor should immediately prepare the establishment of Banten legislative council.
Ekky said the election of a governor could be held after the establishment of the council, based on the results of last year's general election.
PDI Perjuangan won the most votes in the Banten area in last year's elections, while PPP and Golkar ranked second and third respectively.
According to Article 3 of the law on the establishment of Banten province, Banten will consist of four regencies (Serang, Pandeglang, Lebak and Tangerang) and two mayoralties (Tangerang and Cilegon), which were formerly part of West Java province.
The law stipulates that Serang will be the province's capital (Article 7).
The proposal to establish Banten as a province was previously rejected by West Java province. But relentless pressure from the Banten community, the central government and House members forced the West Java administration to eventually endorse the proposal.
West Java Governor R. Nuriana said he had no objection to the establishment of Banten province as it has been decided by the central government.
"It's like having a son or a daughter who wants to get married and become independent. We'll be fine as long as it (Banten province establishment) makes them (Banten people) happy," Nuriana said on Tuesday night.
He admitted that the separation of Banten would reduce West Java's revenue, especially from vehicular taxes and tourism. (25/jun)