Dani men at Papua's Baliem valley. (Antara Photo/Lucky R.)

Commentary: Strengthening Jakarta–Jayapura Trust Is Key to Papua Development


SEPTEMBER 05, 2015

In order to improve the effectiveness of development strategies in Indonesia’s Papua province, trust between the central government in Jakarta and the Papua provincial government in Jayapura needs to be strengthened. The Village Community Empowerment Program (PNPM-RESPEK) is a case in point.

Following its establishment in 2008, PNPM-RESPEK reached almost every village in Papua — a province often recognized as one of Indonesia’s poorest regions. This program was at the heart of the central government’s effort to reduce poverty in Papua. For a period of time it was the only program reaching native Papuans in remote rural areas, mostly in the highlands, with very limited access to basic services. The project cost Rp 1.28 billion (approximately $128 million) in 2013.

Although the program ended in December 2014, it presents a useful lesson for the government of Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), which is set to implement a new village development program in Papua in the near future. The environment of mistrust between the central government in Jakarta and the provincial Papua government in Jayapura must be addressed in order to achieve real development in Papua’s poorest villages.

Unlike community-driven development programs run in other parts of the country, PNPM-RESPEK was funded by both the central and provincial governments. Specifically, funding was provided through the central government’s Program for Community Empowerment in Rural Areas and the Papua provincial government’s Strategic Village Development Plan. The Papua provincial government was responsible for channelling annual block grants of Rp 100 million, while the central government provided technical assistance and facilitation.

The implementation of this flagship program has faced several challenges that may hinder the achievement of long-term goals and the sustainability of future programs. These include the timeframe, demanding administrative requirements, limited access to recipient villages and facilitation quality. The resolution of these issues was not helped by the prevailing environment of mistrust.

A lack of synchronization over the timing of central and provincial government funding provision limited the ability of the subdistrict facilitators to deliver the program. While central government funding was ready for disbursement early in the year, provincial government funds were generally not available until September, October or even November. This became an issue as the provincial government temporarily deactivated villagers’ bank accounts over the Christmas period to prevent misuse of funds. This gave only a short window of time, from September to mid-December, for the funds to be used.

The subdistrict facilitators were also subjected to lengthy administrative requirements for every stage of the program. They had to facilitate at least nine implementation stages, prepare required documents for the disbursement of funding, and write project and individual progress reports for each of between four to 13 villages in each subdistrict. As a result of these reporting requirements, the time that facilitators had available for actual program implementation was limited. Subdistrict facilitators, as the forefront of this program, prioritized the fulfilment of their numerous administrative obligations over improving the quality of project implementation.

The program also suffered from issues of accessibility, with limited roads and transportation facilities resulting in high costs required to reach many areas in Papua. These costs were not met by transportation budgets. As a result, facilitator supervision, especially in poorly accessible areas, was minimal and sometimes even omitted altogether.

Stakeholder discussions proposed several recommendations for reform. The two most significant were to expand the program’s budgetary cycle to biannual cycles — one year for planning and one year for implementation, giving more time to facilitators to plan. And to formulate a special operational technical guide for Papua that considers geographical accessibility issues and reduces unnecessary paperwork.

But these recommendations faced critical challenges in their execution. The provincial government, especially the governor, opposed the first recommendation because while the amount of funds would remain unchanged, they would be channelled only once every two years. This would likely have political repercussions, as village elite’s unhappiness with this ‘long delay’ could potentially reduce the governor’s popularity.

The follow-up on the second recommendation has stalled as there has not been a clear agreement about who should formulate a specific Community Empowerment Operational Guide for Papua. The provincial government and facilitators feel that the current guidelines are too ‘Jakarta-centric’ and would like to formulate their own, but they feel that they have never been entrusted with that authority. On the other hand, the central government expects Jayapura to be more proactive and to take the initiative.

Unfortunately, the central government seems hesitant to pursue further dialogue or lobbying because they feel uneasy about dealing with Jayapura. At the same time, Jayapura believes that Jakarta has not been serious in following up Jayapura’s needs. These misperceptions, which are rooted in decades of unresolved conflict and deep distrust between Jakarta and Jayapura, have hampered the improvement of project implementation.

With President Jokowi’s forthcoming program to accelerate development in Papua, as well as the forthcoming implementation of Village Law No. 6/2014, there will be a significant rise in the allocation of funds directly to villages, including in Papua. Most likely, this will be through the mechanism of the village community empowerment program.

But the effectiveness of these programs is highly dependent on how consistent Jokowi and central government bureaucrats are in keeping their promise of building dialogue and trust with Jayapura. To achieve this, the Jokowi government must focus on facilitating more communication and consultation with the Papua provincial government. Without a fundamental transformation of this relationship, it is likely that future development initiatives will continue to repeat the same unsuccessful pattern.

Yulia I. Sari is a PhD candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, at the Australian National University.

East Asia Forum