Sunday, November 13, 2011

Time to repay Indonesian Papua

Only in the 1960s did Papua make an entry into the history of the Republic of Indonesia that was born in 1945, but the contribution of the latecomer to the state may far exceed that of the remaining regions.

Despite the controversy over Papua’s integration into Indonesia, nobody should cast doubt over what the people in the easternmost territory have done for the state. The Southeast Asian (Sea) Games, which opened on 11/11/11, are all but convincing evidence.

An attack-minded national soccer team has a roster that includes five Papuan players, who among them scored five of eight goals that helped Indonesia win its first two group matches against Cambodia and Singapore.

The way Patrich Wanggai, Titus Bonai, Okto Maniani, Stevie Bonsapia and Lukas Mandowen have performed so far explains why Papuans are dubbed the Black Pearls, who are sought after by major soccer clubs in the country. In the domestic league Papuan clubs, particularly Persipura, Persiwa and Persidafon, are the teams to beat.

Papuan athletes have regularly won medals for the Indonesian team competing in international events. Female weightlifter Lisa Rumbewas, who won a silver medal in both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. Her father, Levi Rumbewas, won the Asian Amateur Bodybuilding Championships in 1991 and 1992 and Timotius Ndiken triumphed in the decathlon competition in the SEA Games in 1991 and 1995 are all just a few of the Papuan men and women who have given pride to the country in sporting achievement.

Ironically, such fame does not necessarily manifest as welfare for the athletes. Ndiken, for example, settled for a job as a sports teacher in a state elementary school in Jayapura that has earned him a small house in the Papua capital. Ndiken represents not only the general state of the country’s forgotten sports heroes, but also the state’s long-standing ignorance of people in Papua: home to one of the world’s biggest gold mines, abundant natural gas reserves, tropical forests and rich biodiversity.

Poverty, illiteracy, poor infrastructure and healthcare, marginalization of indigenous people, continuing human rights violations against civilians by security troops and the fast-growing spread of HIV have characterized Papua since its incorporation into Indonesia in 1969, therefore leading to widespread disappointment and calls for independence in the region.

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) chairman Said Aqil Siraj perceives the acts of violence that have remained unabated in Papua over the last few months are expressions of regional resentment with the central government. In response to the spiraling violence in Papua, NU and Muhammadiyah, the country’s two largest Muslim organizations, called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this week to get involved in comprehensive measures to address the problems plaguing the territory.

The President seemed uneasy with the term “dialogue”, for undisclosed reasons, preferring instead “constructive communication”. He formed last month a special unit for development acceleration in Papua and West Papua and named former Aceh military commander Lt. Gen. (ret) Bambang Darmono to head the unit.

Bambang learned a great deal from the Aceh peace process in 2005, with which he was involved. He said the constructive communication would involve all elements in Papua, including the Free Papua Organization (OPM) separatist group, which is partly blamed for the escalating violence in the province.

President Yudhoyono said the special unit was established on the grounds that nearly Rp 29 trillion (US$3.2 billion) of special autonomy funds disbursed for Papua and West Papua since 2002 have failed to make a difference. The Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) found that at least Rp 1.85 trillion of the special autonomy funds had been left idle in state banks in the form of savings rather than being spent on health and education programs.

While the government was demonstrating its commitment to settling the Papua issue, reports of human rights violations have not faded. On Wednesday, regional military commander Col. Ibnu Tri Widodo said seven soldiers from a Merauke-based infantry battalion were detained for allegedly torturing 12 residents of Kurulu district in the highland regency of Jayawijaya on Nov. 2. The civilians were being interrogated due to their alleged links to the OPM.

It remains to be seen whether the special unit will live up to the expectations of the general public in Papua and Indonesia. After decades of living as second-class citizens, Papuan people deserve the government’s attention. Leaving their grievances unheeded will amount to waiting for a time bomb to explode.

Papua’s underdevelopment also reflects the paradox of Indonesian economic growth, which reached 6.5 percent in the third quarter of the year according to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) on Monday. Java and Sumatra contributed 81.3 percent of the GDP, underlining the entrenched disparity between the western and eastern regions of Indonesia.

The economic growth rate, among the highest in the world, contradicts the latest UN Human Development Index report, which ranks Indonesia 124th out of 187 countries surveyed. Indonesia’s score of 0.617 is the poorest among the five founding ASEAN members.

Economist Revrisond Baswir, who calls the phenomenon “development sans quality”, suggested that the government work more on developing infrastructure in regions outside Java and invest heavily in agriculture.

More than just the Papua issue, President Yudhoyono’s pro-poor, pro-growth development strategy is being put to test.

— Dwi Atmanta for The Jakarta Post

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