Kalimantan Escapade — Opening our borders

Part 3

I think – I do think that we have to have a secure border. We need to make sure that people are, in fact, documented. But that doesn’t mean that we threaten people’s lives.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, American politician and activist

Indonesia’s Kalimantan Barat (KALBAR) is a multi-cultural region blessed with rich natural resources and vast economic opportunities.

Despite this, many ordinary people prefer to look towards Sarawak which to them is the land of milk and honey.

For the Indonesian elite aspiring to become the leaders of this massive province, KALBAR is where they can make a niche in politics and take advantage of a potential to be greater than Malaysia.

But for five million Kalbarians including, native Dayaks from 30 different indigenous groups – Malays, Chinese, Arabs, Javanese and Bugis – their hope is to revive their ancient ties with Sarawak.

In the olden days, the sultanate of Sambas on the southern coast of Borneo, was part of the Brunei empire fiefdom.

In fact, Sarawak’s first sultan Pengiran Muda Tengah was a member of the Brunei royalty who founded Sarawak in 1598.

Sultan Tengah was a descendant of the first pioneering native Awang Alak Betatar who became a Muslim and named Sultan Muhammad Shah after he married a Johor princess in 1353.

Thus, when Pengiran Tengah became sultan, he forged ties with the Johore royalty and the kingdoms of Brunei, Sarawak and Johor became a united archipelago or ‘Nusantara’. 

Borneo’s ‘Nusantara’ included the kingdom of Sukadana along the southern coast from Pontianak.

Strategically placed, Pontianak is 273km from the regency of Sambas which is 322km from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak which was ceded to the Brookes in 1841.

Unlike Sarawak which was gradually developed into a thriving entity under the Brookes, Indonesian Kalimantan was neglected by their Dutch colonialists. 

Today the city of Pontianak which was badly planned, has about 700,000 people, which is the equivalent of Kuching city’s population.

On June 27, 2019 the Kalbarians voted for change and three candidates promised to uplift Pontianak’s status.

The candidates were Dr Karolin Margaret Natasa Cornelis, a Kendayan Dayak; former Mayor of Pontianak Sutarmidji who is a Muslim of Tamil and Chinese stock; and Milton Crosby, a former ‘bupati’ (regent) of the Sintang regency.

Karolin, the daughter of former two-term (five years per term) ‘gubernur’ (governor) of KALBAR Drs Cornelis, lost the contest to Sutarmidji.

She is a member of Indonesia’s Democratic Party of Struggle’s (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan; PDI-P) which is led by Megawati Sukoerno Putri, the daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno.

Governor Sutajmidji’s victory was a great loss for Sarawak because among Caroline’s pledges was to establish more immigration checkpoints between KALBAR and Sarawak.

“In the first five years of my father’s term as governor, Karol who was a Java-based parliamentarian, realised that the only way to achieve greater development was to work closely with the central government,” Karolin said.

With the election of Joko Widodo or ‘Jokowi’ in 2014, KALBAR found a friend in the new leadership as the president began to spend more time and money on developing the Borneo provinces.

Little did we know that Jokowi was planning to move the Indonesian capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan (KALTIM).

Karolin ventured into KALBAR politics at the early age of 25 when she took over as the Landak regent from her father in 2007.

Two years later she became a member of the Indonesian national parliament, serving for two terms – the second term ending in 2019.

Interestingly the Bengkayang regency which shares the border with Bau district is a famous ‘Jalan Tikus’ at Serikin – an illegal entry point for Sarawakians.

However, Serikin which has a weekend where our neighbours sell their produce, has a Sarawak immigration post which accepts border passes.

I have often used the ‘illegal route’  and once took former Sarawak police chief Datuk Yusof Jaafar across the border on a motorcycle.

Looking back, I can imagine the embarrassment if we had been stopped by the TNI – the Indonesian army.

If Karol contests in 2024 and wins she will push for an official customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) post at Jagoi Babang and Serikin.

She is also keen to open a CIQ at Temajok which is the gateway to southern Sarawak.

Isolated Temajok which is 10 minutes from Telok Melano, is where the people from the Sambas regency do barter trading for decades.

Currently, the 500 Malay families in Temajuk who produce about 1.2 tons of rice per year, consume about 42.3 tons of rice which comes from Sarawak.

At present there are only two CIQ stations along the Sarawak-KALBAR border at Biawak-Aruk Sajingan in Lundu and Tebedu-Entikong in Serian.

The Sarawak town of Tebedu which was renamed ‘Bandar Mutiara’ (mutiara means pearl) had grandiose plans to be turned into an industrial complex.

Sadly, the new township which is an expansive complex of abandoned shophouses, is so neglected that it has often been called a white elephant.

On the other side of the border, President Jokowi officiated at the opening of the new Entikong CIQ building with its massive upgrade and new facilities as far back as 2016.

Entikong is a now a bustling township when compared to their Sarawak neighbours.

Hopefully the completion of the Pan Borne Highway will improve the connectivity between both countries.

Next week: Final part – Journey to ‘Kota Amoi’

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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