Ten years ago today, a law was passed that was supposed to accelerate development in the nation’s impoverished easternmost province and, consequently, address the simmering unrest there.
But few would argue that Papua is better off a decade after the passage of the 2001 Law on Special Autonomy for Papua.
The law was meant to empower the local government to set out development programs that would address the needs of native Papuans who had long been sidelined by political violence and human rights violations.
But along the way, instead of benefiting Papuans, the law seems to have most benefited regional officials. Though trillions of rupiah have been poured into the region, Papuans are still living in poverty, with very limited access to health care, education, jobs and other essentials.
The “Papua Road Map,” a report from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) first released in 2008, points out that the blind eye turned toward the inconsistencies between the Special Autonomy policy (Otsus) and the marginalization of Papuans only made the situation worse.
Muridan Satrio Widjojo, who co-wrote the report, said the inconsistencies stem from the fact that neither the central government nor the marginalized Papuans had ownership of Otsus.
The law, drafted and passed in the span of one year, was a shortcut to appease recurring calls for independence from various groups following the fall of Suharto’s New Order in 1998, he said.
The growing calls led to the formation of “Tim 100,” a team of 100 Papuan tribal leaders and elders who came to Jakarta in 1999 to personally convey the message to then-President B.J. Habibie.
Sensing the restless stir, several House of Representatives members from Papua, one being Jaap Solossa, managed to include the seeds of the Special Autonomy Law into the State Policy Guidelines (GBHN) for 1999-2004.
When Jaap became governor of Papua in 2000, he took the initiative to start drafting the Otsus bill and began lobbying senior officials in Jakarta to endorse it.
And here began the downfall of the policy: The drafting of the law did not include the parties in conflict, namely the Indonesian government and pro-independence Papuans.
“It was written by people from NGOs and Papuan academics, but the problem was the Otsus Law did not come from the conflicting parties,” Muridan said.
By contrast, the 2006 agreement that granted Aceh regional autonomy was hammered out by members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government, he explained.
The intrinsic problem — a lack of ownership of the policy by those supposed to carry it out — was reflected in its implementation.
Ruben Magai, the head of Commission A in Papua’s legislative council, said both the central and provincial governments have never been committed to thoroughly implementing special autonomy.
“They pay lip service to special autonomy. This is evident in the lack of regulations governing indigenous Papuan rights and the protection of those rights,” he said.
And because the central government did not agree with some parts of the law, Muridan said it implemented it selectively.
The law, for instance, mandated the establishment of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) as the local political body to reflect the aspirations of Papuans. “But what the central government did was to split MRP into two: the Papuan MRP and the West Papuan MRP,” Muridan said.
The creation of West Papua, an additional province, and several more districts over the years — from seven in 1996 to 39 in 2008 — was seen as the central government’s attempt to subvert the idea of one separate Papua as well as create new pockets for “development” projects and more jobs at government offices.
Instead of giving jobs to native Papuans, though, the locals lost to more educated and experienced candidates from other regions.
“So of course to the Papuans, the Otsus Law was only seen as a trick for certain parties to get the money and for immigrants to come in and further marginalize them,” Muridan continued.
But former State Minister for Regional Autonomy Ryaas Rashid defended the decision, saying that at the time the expansion of administrative areas seemed necessary considering Papua’s size. “Even with today’s 39 districts, it is still too few,” he said.
He also saw the trillions of rupiah in funds allocated to the region as necessary due to the high cost for basic equipment in the area. Muridan disagreed, saying development funds mostly went to the payslips of civil servants instead of the Papuan people.
An audit by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) issued in September indicates that billions of rupiah have been misappropriated.
“In Jayapura district, the lack of sufficient regulations for income tax could lead to Rp 7.89 billion ($872,000) in state loss,” the report said.
An audit of the 2009 financial report of Papua’s Mamberamo Raya district also indicated Rp 5.93 billion in possible state losses.
In a report submitted to the president and the House, BPK said more than Rp 900 billion had been misappropriated over the years by way of fictitious projects and irregular spending.
Furthermore, it also found that Rp 1.85 trillion of Otsus funds were placed into a private account in Bank Mandiri and Bank Papua by regional state officials.
Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) spokesman Johan Budi said the KPK was still waiting for an investigative BPK audit to detail the misappropriations of Otsus funds in Papua.
Former Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu said that when special autonomy was first rolled out, a lot of money was siphoned off due to a lack of regulations on how to allocate it. “Most of this happened because of the bureaucracy at the provincial level,” he said. “Government spending [on bureaucracy] was large while there were almost no public programs.”
However, he said that when he took office in 2006, oversight of the funds was strengthened and he demanded accountability and transparency from all working units. “Only 40 percent of the funds are still tied up by the administration,” he said.
On the other hand, Ruben pointed to the weak oversight of the use of the special autonomy funds. “The Papuan Provincial Legislative Council [DPRD] only receives a report on governor’s responsibilities for the budget, not his responsibilities for ... special autonomy funds. It is very difficult for the Council to identify irregularities. The Council is not in a position where it can ask why funds have disappeared.’’
Arif Wibowo, a lawmaker from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), pointed instead to the central government, accusing it of purposely ignoring problems to maintain political instability in the region.
“Such a situation can be used by certain parties to bargain for more funds,” Arif said.
Time to talk
Almost all experts and interested parties say the same thing when asked how to solve the problem of Papua: a real dialogue.
Most agree that the special autonomy law needs to be revisited, but Muridan said the key to the process was the people.
“Who should revise the law? It is the people in conflict; they have to sit down together and start a dialogue,” he said, a sentiment echoed by Papuans.
Rev. Socratez Sofyan Yoman, head of the Fellowship of Baptist Churches of Papua, said the dialogue was urgently needed.
“Otsus has failed. It never created protection, or support and empowerment for the Papuan natives,” he said. “A dialogue is also important to clarify the original political standpoint of the Papuan people.”
The government recently established the Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua (UP4B) and Muridan is optimistic this will help. “The unit provides a direct channel for Papuan people to deliver their concerns to the central government,” he said.
Arif wasn’t as optimistic. “The most important thing is to enforce the Otsus Law and then we may correct it along the way,” he said. “UP4B is just a waste of money.”
UP4B chief Bambang Darmono said he was aware of the challenges. “The priority is to establish communication with all parties, and to make them familiar with our unit,” he said, adding that his main goal was to talk with “everyone who had an interest in resolving the conflicts in Papua.”
Additional reporting by Banjir Ambarita
Budget allocations for Papua:
2002 Rp 1.4 trillion ($157 million)
2003 Rp 1.5 trillion
2004 Rp 1.6 trillion
2005 Rp 1.8 trillion
2006 Rp 2.9 trillion
2007 Rp 4.0 trillion
2008 Rp 3.9 trillion
2009 Rp 5.8 trillion
2010 Rp 5.2 trillion