National

Planned creation of West
Jambi province questioned

The death earlier this month of the North Sumatra legislative speaker over establishing a new province of Tapanuli has not dampened calls elsewhere for the establishment of West Jambi province, separate from Jambi.

The construction of an airport in Bungo regency and the establishment of Kota Sungaipenuh municipality, gaining autonomy from Kerinci regency, are being pointed out as developments to support the new province's creation.

Kota Sungaipenuh's establishment, in particular, is deemed by many as a prerequisite for creating a new province, because based on Law No. 32/2004 on regional administrations, one of the requirements for granting autonomous status to a new province is the inclusion of at least five municipalities and regencies.

Also expected to merge to form West Jambi province are the regencies and municipalities of Kerinci, Merangin, Sarolangun and Bung.

Helmi, head of the Center of Law, Policy and Regional Autonomy Studies (PSHK-ODA), said those who wished to establish a new province should not be hasty, because they were required to conduct in-depth studies before any such plan could be realized.

The studies must consider various factors, including demography, finance, cultural, political, security and defense issues, as well as public welfare and administrative powers, such as coordination, supervision and guidance, he said.

"Don't separate before conducting these comprehensive studies, because that could spark conflict," Helmi said.

On Feb. 3, thousands of supporters for the establishment of Tapanuli province staged a rally at the North Sumatra Legislative Council, demanding the council approve the creation of the new province. The rally devolved into a violent protest, during which council speaker Abdul Aziz Angkat was assaulted by the mob, dying a few hours later.

The separation of three regencies in Jambi in 1999 also shows the potential for conflict over such an issue, as seen in the border dispute between Bungo and Tebo regencies, which to date remains unresolved.

Also of concern is the issue of regency assets, where a parent regency such as Batanghari was left much poorer by the separation of Muarojambi, which was far richer in terms of natural resources.

In the case of Kota Sungaipenuh, the new municipality relies heavily on the service sector and has fewer natural resources than Kerinci regency, which is rich in natural assets.

"They should have a proper reason to separate," Helmi pointed out.

He added he suspected vested political interests were behind the moves to gain autonomous status, including political elites who wished to occupy prospective positions in the new administrations, from governor, regent and mayor, to agency head, district head and subdistrict head.

So far, he went on, one of the main reasons for the calls for autonomy was based on administrative and geographical shortcomings, such as poor public services due to the distance from the administrative hub.

This, he said, was just an excuse, because public services could be improved through good coordination within the provincial administration.

Helmi also blasted the stance by the House of Representatives that tended to facilitate the separation of a region, which he strongly believed was a conspiracy between House members and the regional autonomy team from the parent province.

Despite that, he said, the idea of establishing West Jambi province would just be a discourse, given the packed political agenda this year that will see legislative and presidential elections.

But he warned the issue could likely spring back in 2010, along with pressure from the political elite. He added the Jambi governor should then form a regional autonomy team because the decision to separate a region was based on the governor's consent.

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