Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | 20:19 WIB

Papua’s Special Autonomy Challenges Persist in Elevating the Well-being and Stability of it’s People

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Jakarta, IO – This article was prompted by the question: why have all the funds that have been disbursed for the development of Papua failed to improve the welfare of the indigenous people and bring peace to the land? In fact, Law 21/2001 on Special Autonomy Status for Papua Province should indeed be interpreted as: (1) “Atonement” for past mistreatment by an authoritarian regime against the indigenous people; (2) Acceleration of a meaningful development process in Papua, which is still lagging behind other Indonesian regions; (3) A manifestation of the “politics of recognition” to demonstrate respect and acknowledgment of a distinct indigenous Papuan cultural identity, within the framework of the Republic of Indonesia. 

Based on these perspectives, Papua has been given three privileges, since the enactment of the Special Autonomy Law, namely: (1) “Papuanization” of the bureaucracy, through the provision that the governor and deputy governor must be native Papuans, and the establishment of the Papuan People’s Council (MRP) to represent the indigenous community and religious organizations; (2) Policy autonomy, where the Papua provincial administrations has the right to craft their own policies in all sectors, with the exception of international affairs, defense, monetary and fiscal policy, religion and legislation; (3) Larger profit-sharing funds compared to other regions, with the provinces in Papua receiving 80 percent of revenues from forestry, fisheries, mining, and 70 percent from oil and gas sectors up until 2026. Additionally, the Special Autonomy Fund accounted for 2 percent of the total General Allocation Funds (DAU) until 2021. 

As of this writing, the narrative on Papuan special autonomy status among the policymakers (the central government) and in academic circles in Jakarta is that it is simply a matter of a regional transfer of funds. According to data from the Finance Ministry, the special autonomy funds and additional infrastructure funds for the period from 2002 to 2021 for Papua and West Papua provinces amounted to Rp138.65 trillion. Meanwhile, Regional Transfer and Village Funds (TKDD) reached Rp702.3 trillion and spending by ministries/agencies topped Rp251.29 trillion. In total, up until 2021 Papua has received a whopping Rp1,092 trillion. 

Some of the visible development in this region includes a number of major infrastructure projects built by the Government, such as the trans-Papuan road, bridges, seaports, airports, educational and healthcare facilities, markets, and so on. Likewise, more and more Papuan children can continue their study to a higher level, either self-funded or through scholarships. Papuan Provincial Governments have provided various affirmative scholarship schemes, such as ADEM, for secondary education completion, ADIK for higher education admission and the “1,000 Doctors” program. 

Since the implementation of Papuan special autonomy, there have been major changes in the makeup of the bureaucracy. Previously, non-Papuans occupied 60 percent of the top echelon positions, but one year after the policy was enacted, indigenous Papuans constitute 80 percent of the local civil service. Until 2010, there has been “Papuanization” of the local bureaucracy, where as many as 4,200 non-Papuan officials in structural and non-structural positions were replaced by natives. In this context, special autonomy is understood as the affirmation of indigenous Papuans in regional government, which subsequently resulted in increased participation of indigenous Papuans in government agencies and non-governmental organizations. 

While physical development is visible and easier to measure, we should also look at other crucial metrics the Human Development Index (HDI) and the ongoing security challenge. Doesn’t Papuan special autonomy intend to correct the mistakes of the “New Order” regime and recognize the basic rights of indigenous Papuans? But in this case, policymakers in Jakarta only interpret it primarily as a regional transfer of funds, to accelerate the development of Papua while ignoring the fundamental aim of recognizing and protecting the basic rights of indigenous Papuans. 

According to research by the Indonesia Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in 2021, while the HDI of indigenous Papuans had continued to improve from 2010 to 2018, it was still way below the national average. For reference, in districts where indigenous Papuans are the majority, the average HDI was quite low. The HDI of Nduga, Tambrauw, and Arfak Mountains regencies, for example, were recorded at 56 in 2018, lower than those areas where non-Papuans are the majority, such as the cities of Sorong and Jayapura. This has not changed much in succeeding years. 

Survey by Statistics Indonesia (BPS) in 2023 found that the province of Papua had the highest poverty rate (26.8 percent) compared to other poor provinces (West Papua, East Nusa Tenggara and Maluku). The results of the 2022 Indonesian Nutrition Status Study (SSGI) showed that the stunting rate in Papua, at 34.6 percent, was the third-highest in Indonesia, significantly higher than the national average of 21.6 percent. Study by NGO Pusaka (2023) concluded that food insecurity in Papua is caused by deforestation, which has destroyed local food sources. Furthermore, Greenpeace in 2021 reported that in the period from 2000 to 2019, 168,471 hectares of forests in Papua Province were converted into plantations. While they have contributed to the local economy around the area, they do not exert a direct impact on the improvement of communities’ food and nutritional intake. According to Pusaka (2023) and Saputra (2023), the “modernization drive” in Papua has engendered complex problems, especially deforestation and malnutrition which are increasingly evident in areas where forests were cut down to make way for oil palm plantations. 

It is ironic that Papuan special autonomy intended to atone the New Order’s excesses of political violence and human rights violations, marginalization and discrimination against indigenous population has seen those mistakes being repeated today. Even though the gross regional domestic product (GRDP) of Papua and West Papua provinces hit around 5 percent annually, and infrastructure development has been taking place at a rapid pace, the results of a 2023 study by the National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas) found that development statistics and economic growth never has a positive correlation with peace, meaning that the development in Papua is not directly proportional to the peace-building process. In fact, although the Government perpetually claims that development in Papua has served the best interests of Papuans, it has failed to build pillars of peace in the land. Development has fallen short to ensure human rights protection and reduce incidents of political violence in the region. 

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