Friday, January 28, 2011

What hope is there left for the betterment of Papua?

From a content-analysis perspective, the amount of coverage a particular issue gets in the media often determines how a country prioritizes that issue, and reflects the degree of urgency with which this issue is addressed.

The tax corruption cases focusing on former tax official Gayus H. Tambunan have dominated Indonesian media headlines lately, as has the torture of Indonesian migrant worker Sumiyati in Saudi Arabia.

But, a different treatment appears to have been given to Papua. While the issue of Papua continues to be regarded as “a pebble in the shoe for Indonesia,” no proper attention from its government, civil society or media has been paid to remedy these problems.

This could be interpreted as “a degree of complacency and exhaustion” on the part of the Indonesian public, as poverty, conflict and atrocities in Papua seem to dominate the stories it sees about this region.

The government is also apparently overwhelmed by the complexity of problems in Papua, with no effective solutions identified yet.

Hardly any achievements have been made in Papua worth acknowledging. An American diplomat in Jakarta described this situation as a “web”, where one problem or issue is related to the other.

A foreign donor staff also said it was extremely difficult to work with people in Papua. I sense he was also frustrated in handling issues in Papua.

It is somehow ironic that the rallies initiated by the Papua People’s Assembly (MRP) and attended by thousands of people in Jayapura in June-July 2010, which resulted in 11 recommendations, were not seen by the government as a “serious warning” that more serious and concrete approaches were needed.

Two alarming messages came out of these recommendations.

First, the people proposed international parties mediate in the settlement of Papua’s problems, which signaled deepening distrust in the central government.
Second, they said Papua’s “special autonomy” had been a failure, despite the fact this policy was deemed the only hope and means available for the central government to win the hearts and minds of the Papuan people.

“Without any progress, instability and the internationalization of Papua will continue to pose threats.”

A well-implemented special autonomy should serve as a trump card for the Indonesian government to win diplomacy, amid the internationalization of Papua, which has intensified lately.

Most foreign countries have stipulated that they will only support Papua’s integration with Indonesia if its “special autonomy” is implemented effectively.
After the long march last year, another problem arose when several Papuan elites and members of the Papuan Independence Front met US Congressmen in Washington in September 2010.

The meeting focused on Papua’s “special autonomy” and human rights violations issues. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono responded by sending three coordinating ministers to Papua and West Papua for talks with local government officials to collect information on the region.

The meeting resulted in a decision to establish a special board to supervise the acceleration of development in Papua.

However, until today, no concrete measures have been taken by the board. The meeting itself was criticized by local NGOs as being centralistic, lacking participation from the grassroots, and oversimplifying Papua’s problems.

The Yudhoyono administration also ordered an audit of trillions of rupiah worth of special autonomy funds that have been poured into Papua and West Papua.

It is ironic, however, that before the audit has been completed, the President has already made a new commitment to increase the budget for the two provinces in 2011.
I share Neles Tebay’s concerns (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 16, 2010) of a possible backlash to this policy, because the absence of a thorough audit of past funding will only breed further corruption.

Without any tangible improvement to the government’s initiatives to resolve Papua’s problems, people in the province will continue to face their own additional domestic affairs that will potentially trigger further conflicts and social instability.

One of the divisive issues centers around the provincial legislative council (DPRP) demanding the Constitutional Court revoke the direct gubernatorial election, which contradicts the original law on special autonomy for Papua.

Members of the DPRP insist that the central government’s decision to amend Article 7 of the 2001 law and introduce a direct election was a result of “intervention and political maneuvering”.

Another domestic affair is related to public grievances on the result of the recent trial of three Army soldiers who were convicted for torturing civilians in the strife-torn regency of Puncak Jaya.

They were only sentenced to between eight and 10 months in prison and escaped human rights violation charges.

Finally, the election of MRP members has come under the spotlight after the head of church synods demanded a postponement to the process, citing the cultural body’s failure to help promote special autonomy.

The election process has been criticized for allegedly being dominated by security and political interests rather than those of native Papuans (the Post, Jan. 19, 2011). Before the election takes place, church leaders demanded talks with President Yudhoyono concerning the failure of Papua’s “special autonomy”.

The central government is racing against the clock to take concrete actions to deal with Papua. Empty promises will only extend the list of “government lies”.

Without any progress, instability and the internationalization of Papua will continue to pose threats with a higher degree of complexity.

Finally, it is also crucial for civil society groups to keep pushing the government to put Papua at the top of their agenda and for the media to give extensive coverage to Papua to help restore hope for betterment in the province.

By Vidhyandika D Perkasa researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta. From Jakarta Post

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