Most East Kalimantan residents, including Balikpapanbased trader Mulyono, have felt elated since Aug. 26, when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced the government had picked the province to be the location of the new capital city.
After years of in-depth study, the President announced the country’s new capital city would be built in parts of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara regencies in East Kalimantan. The location was picked because it is, among other reasons, relatively free from the threat of natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and is situated in the middle of the country — symbolizing equal development across all parts of the archipelago.
Mulyono, who moved to the city from the country’s most populated island of Java in 1993, said the plan was a beacon of hope for the province.
“I’m delighted to hear there will be development especially for regions in East Kalimantan. I believe the government will help us improve our welfare rather than bring it down,” 45-year-old Mulyono said recently.
“We’re ready to be called urban people!” he added. In Indonesia, people from outside Jakarta are often called orang daerah (country people) — a remark considered derogatory — even if they live in a city as big as Balikpapan.
For many people in Balikpapan, the government’s plan to build a new capital city in resource-rich East Kalimantan is seen as a second chance at survival after the city suffered an economic recession around the mid-2010s because of a bearish oil and gas market.
Locals said the city used to be filled with foreigners and Indonesians working in various oil and gas companies operating near Balikpapan. However, their numbers have been decreasing since the recession, causing economic centers such as shopping malls to get fewer visitors each day.
Should the government carry out its plan to move the capital city to the two regencies near Balikpapan, customers may begin returning to local stores, as the plan will see 1.5 million people relocate to the province, according to the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas).
People residing outside Balikpapan, however, are taking the capital relocation plan with a grain of salt, especially the members of the Paser Balik indigenous community in Sepaku district, North Penajam Paser regency.
Paser Balik is one of 12 subcommunities of the indigenous Paser people, who mostly reside across East Kalimantan. According to a report from the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), this community formed two sultanates — Sadurengas and Paser — between the 1500s and 1910s.
A recent survey estimated that about 100,000 Paser people still live in villages across the province today, including in Sepaku subdistrict where most members of the Paser Balik subcommunity have lived side by side with transmigrants for years.
“I used to live in Balikpapan when kompeni [Dutch colonial rulers] and the British first developed oil businesses in the city. We were later moved to this land in Sepaku subdistrict where we built our houses from leaves and branches,” 100-year-old Paser Balik community member Nongang told The Jakarta Post.
The subdistrict is located approximately 87 kilometers, or a 2.5-hour drive by car, from Balikpapan city center. Apart from the distance, reaching the villages of the Paser Balik community across Sepaku district is difficult because of the many potholes along the way. The only road connecting Balikpapan and Sepaku has been damaged by trucks carrying oil palm fruit and logs from nearby plantations and industrial forests.
Nongang said he would be happy if the government moved the capital city to Sepaku because “the town would be nearer than Balikpapan, as it has been a hassle to reach the town”. He was echoed by Yati Delima, 26, who said “the quiet forest area will be crowded with tall buildings”.
“However, what will happen to our forest, where we can find everything we need, from medicines to materials for weaving? If the forest is turned into buildings, where will we find these medicines?” Yati asked.
According to a study conducted by Forest Watch Indonesia in 2017, the two regencies still have 824,000 hectares of tree cover, or 29 percent of the total combined area of the regions.
Apart from concerns regarding deforestation, members of the indigenous community said they were also worried the government would take the land for the project despite the fact they have lived there for hundreds of years.
“Most of our people are illiterate, as most of us don’t go to school. I’m concerned the plan will bring further problems regarding land ownership as we’re hindered in obtaining legal documents for our land,” 62-yearold Setiyon said.
He added that locals would need to pay Rp 850,000 (US$60.16) to obtain a registered-land certificate — an amount considered expensive for Paser Balik residents who depend on farming as their main source of income.
However, members of this indigenous community said they did not have much to do and would try to cope with any decision made by the government regarding the new capital city. Setiyon said they would welcome anyone coming to their area.
“Whether they come from Java or Sulawesi, we will open our arms to them, as long as they are willing to live with us in harmony,” Setiyon said.
He added that the government should also involve them in discussions regarding the plans for new capital city as well as provide proper compensation should the indigenous people be asked to hand over their land for development.