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Highway completion to make Borneo a huge mart
Published on: Sunday, September 05, 2010

THE near-completion of the Trans-Kalimantan Highway traversing hitherto inaccessible parts of Indonesian Kalimantan will speed up the process of integration among the peoples of Kalimantan, Brunei and Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak).

This is because it would eventually link up with the Trans-Borneo Highway, bringing with it greater opportunities for trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchanges, says Kalimantan Selatan (South) Governor Rurdy Ariffin.

In this regard, he feels too much time and money has been wasted on the BIMP-EAGA (Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines) East Asia Growth Area, insisting that it is more logical and easier for Borneo being the world's third largest island to be developed first.

He says at a time when many in the world are slipping into poverty, the hundreds of ethnic groups in Borneo comprising some 20 million people - about 12 million in the four Kalimantan provinces alone - have been successful in not going hungry or being homeless through engaging in economic activity, subsistence farming and government assistance.

"Development will become more rapid when the Trans-Kalimantan Highway is completed and becomes part of the Trans-Borneo Highway (the portion undertaken by the governments of Malaysia and Brunei)," he says.

It will have a multiplier effect on all the three Borneo economies as Borneo will then become one huge market, he adds.

Rest of the interview specially granted to Daily Express at his official residence, in Banjarmasin, recently, follows:

DE: Much has been said about the Trans-Kalimantan Highway and how its completion will lead to greater mobility of peoples and goods among the three Borneo territories of Indonesian Kalimantan, Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak and Brunei). How long more will it take to comeplete?

Rurdy: The Trans-Kalimantan Highway begins in East Kalimantan, then to South Kalimantan, Central and West Kalimantan.

There are still problems regarding its completion, mainly having to do with taking conservation areas, especially in Central and West Kalimantan, into account.

DE: Yours is the smallest of the four Kalimantan provinces yet it is important in terms of coal and oil palm.

Rurdy: We are small but at the time of independence the whole of Kalimantan was just one province and the capital was Banjarmasin which is in this province. It was then that Kalimantan was broken up into East, Central, West and South. We are still important in terms of coal, oil palm and agriculture in that order.

This is also an open province as you are bound to find Indonesians from every part of the archipelago here. Many of them are migrants from elsewhere like Java coming to work in the oil palm plantations.

DE: There have been reports although not confined to any particular province in Kalimantan of bad experiences faced by Malaysian investors.

Some apparently burnt their fingers through badly negotiated deals or hidden clauses in agreements.

How are Malaysian investors faring in your province and do you think they have been living up to expectations?

Rurdy: Let's be frank. You can ask these firms like Guthrie if that is the case. In fact, Malaysian firms own the biggest plantations in South Kalimantan, mostly through their anak company (subsidiaries).

Their acreages over here are also anytime bigger than what they have in Malaysia.

On the whole I believe there have been no bad experiences.

But if you are referring to "social gate" issues, these are normal problems you find anywhere.

On occasions there have been negative connotations regarding Malaysian investors, that they are only here to make profits, etc.

But, whatever the investors want whether in plantations, mining or forestry we can discuss in real terms.

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