Papua has become an example of what happens when a nation’s ruling elites fail to give everybody a piece of the economic pie. It also showcases the greed of several groups merely interested in the region’s natural resources, without ever considering the livelihoods of the locals.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said that he has done much to develop Papua, but the country’s easternmost province is still one of its poorest. The irony is that it is also the country’s most wealthy region in terms of natural resources. Over the years, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, for instance, has extracted huge amounts of precious metals, with many saying that the world’s biggest gold miner would have gone bankrupt without its Indonesian operations.
It is true that the central government has allocated trillions of rupiah (hundreds of millions of dollars) to develop the province. But the money has not reached all the people who desperately need it, because a lot simply has been stolen.
The province has always been treated as a rebellious region, because a small number of armed groups want to be independent. This unrest has long been cited as a reason to station a large amount of troops there and to boost military and police budgets. And because of the huge natural-resource profits, rogue security officers can enrich themselves by running illegal businesses. This context gives rise to the thought that some powerful stakeholders have little interest in truly making Papua safe and want to keep it closed to foreign journalists. The police and military leadership can end such suspicions by opening up the region to all people.
It is time to treat Papua normally, just like any other Indonesian province. This will create more transparency, which is essential for Papua’s development and the improvement of people’s lives.