It is thanks to this southern Sabah port that essentials ranging from infant formula to instant noodles find their way into the homes of its 800,000 citizens at prices slightly higher than in Sabah but far cheaper than if they were to be shipped in from Jakarta. Hence, the price factor favours Maggi Mee in comparison to Indo-Mee, for instance, and Tenom Coffee instead of Indo Cafe.
A random check by Daily Express found up to 80 per cent of the goods on sale in Nunukan shops to be from Sabah.
This scenario is repeated in most of the other districts or regencies namely Tarakan City, Bulungan, Malinau and Tana Tidung. Which may also mean that up to 80 per cent of the population are more familiar or used to consuming goods from Sabah.
For the most part, these goods are brought in by barter traders or the 2,000-odd workers, friends and relatives who use the ferries of any of the eight operators that make the two-hour journey between Nunukan and Tawau on a daily basis from dawn to dusk. No doubt an unknown quantity are smuggled in as well.
“I believe even this coffee is from Malaysia,” said Iriyanto, in-between sips, at a 5-storey hotel in Nunukan owned by a former Bupati (Mayor) that even had an open rooftop lobby-cum-karaoke.
If Iriyanto’s masterplan for better air and port links for North Kalimantan which he has submitted to the President materialises, it may not be long before the people of Nunukan switch to coffee from elsewhere.
Change is also taking place on the ground. Iriyanto had earlier in the day launched a rural water supply scheme for 700 households who now enjoy piped water to their homes for the first time in 20 years.
Better infrastructure would soon mean that vast coal, oil palm, bauxite and oil and gas potentials would also be tapped quicker than when it was still part of East Kalimantan until four years ago.
Iriyanto’s immediate focus is on Nunukan and Tarakan city. He strongly feels Nunukan should be linked to various cities in Indonesia by land and air.
“This is my priority as Governor.
“My other mission is to make Tarakan a world class port, complete with industrial estate and infrastructure like bridges and roads.”
A feasibility study has been done to build a seven-and-half kilometre bridge linking the island port city of Tarakan to the mainland within the next five years.
The airport in Tg Selor is due to be expanded to accommodate jets direct from Jakarta and for the airport in Tarakan to accommodate B747s to make it an international hub for this part of Borneo to welcome investors direct from Chinese cities and Taiwan. Iriyanto has good reasons for this.
“We have huge oil and gas deposits in Indonesia, the two trillion cubic feet of gas in Nunukan is the largest and is now being explored. Ini kalau jadi tambah kaya di Nunukan (if becomes a reality will mean more wealth for Nunukan),” he said.
“We are also the biggest exporters of prawns in Indonesia, mainly from Tarakan.
“We have opened up 190,000 hectares of sea for prawn farming.” Flying from Tarakan to Samarinda one will see miles and miles of live prawn cages glistening in the sea for as far as the eye can see.
“One of them (investors) is exporting 500 tonnes monthly. 1kg of tiger prawns is about USD30.
Japan is buying 60pc of the production and the rest is going to China and Europe,” he said.
In Tarakan can be found perhaps the world’s largest natural prawn farm, a Sarawakian joint venture where tiger prawns are cultivated organically as they feed on natural plankton. This is only possible if the surrounding water is 100pc pollution-free, resulting in the prawns tasting sweeter than those reared using feed.
At the moment, the prawns are exported to far-flung destinations through Java. But that is also about to change.
“We will start exporting them direct once the international port in Kelapang is ready. There is also another port coming up in Mahkopadi in Bulungan district and an industrial estate. I have discussed these developments with the President who is very supportive,” he said.
Not forgetting the forests which are still extensive with hydro-electric and water supply potential, besides tourism.
No industrial dream is possible without uninterrupted power supply and a 6,000MW power plant is being built with Chinese help.
Iriyanto said there are also many locations in his province that are ideal for oil palm.
This is where Sabah’s own status as the nation’s top oil palm producer may be at risk as Indonesia, the world’s leading oil palm producer, hopes to consolidate that hold.
By providing low interest loans through Bank Pembangunan Kaltim (BPK), locals now become stakeholders as their land titles can be used to apply for loans to grow this and other crops.
The downside is that even more workers in Sabah and Sarawak may soon return home and support the local industry as they would be their own bosses with the land title guaranteeing access to cheap credit.
At the presentation of communal land titles for 988 acres at Sungai Ular in blocs under its land reform programme, Iriyanto urged the settlers to match Malaysia’s 15-20 tonnes per hectare of Crude Palm Oil (CPO).
“The way to do it is to improve the quality of CPO and raise output and your pendapatan (income) by switching to high quality saplings,” he told them.
“It is common to hear of 18 tonnes per hectare because they (Malaysian growers) are given good quality seedlings, techniques, expertise and access to credit”.
Iriyanto also acknowledged that former Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Mohd Harris Salleh has done more to enhance Kalimantan-Malaysia relations through his many self-financed visits than any other Malaysian leader.
He said this to hundreds of locals and government officials in Simangaris, in which a Sabah delegation led by Harris was also present:
“This man is now way past 80 and others his age would prefer to play with their grandchildren.
Yet, he is full of semangat dan tenaga (spirit and energy) to visit Kalimantan every few years and to call on the Governors.
We truly appreciate it.”
In part it is due to the special relationship Harris had forged with the various Governors and deputies going back 30 years when he was Sabah CM.
“He is not just visiting us as a dear friend. This time he is also bringing investors from China who are looking for 10,000 hectares to grow special rice for consumption in China.
“Again although Sabah produces seaweed, there is no guarantee of stable supply, apart from security issues due to cross-border kidnappings,” Iriyanto said.
“They (China investors) have also sought his help to secure consistent supply of seaweed for the cosmetics industry in China.”
Iriyanto told the crowd that he had directed his officials to look into both the proposals.
Harris when invited to address the crowd later, said his first choice when the Chinese investors called on him was Sabah.
But he found out there were none of the size of padi land available in Sabah.
“As for seaweed, we had a seaweed factory in Semporna but it closed down after just three months because of inadequate supply. Baru jalan tapi tutup (just started then closed).
“Now China wants to buy seaweed, ubi kayu (tapioca) chips, starch and land to grow special rice but we don’t have what they are looking for.
“I checked seluruh (all over) Sabah but could not find 10,000ha to grow special rice. Mana mau cari (where to find).
Only small plots here and there.
“So I suggested they look at Kalimantan, our neighbour that has banyak tanah (vast lands). The Governor was quick to ask around and they are looking at an area in Tg Selor. That is how fast they (Indonesians) do things and is a credit to them.”
Harris’ popularity was also evident among the rural folks in interior Kalimantan who instantly recognised and called out “Datuk Harris! Datuk Harris!” during his visit to Serudong in North Kalimantan.
As it turned out these people knew him when they worked in plantations and sawmills in Sandakan and Keningau back in the 1980s.