Ministerial visit by Luhut shows that Jokowi’s government still lacks genuine solutions when it comes to Papua.
Recently, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for
Politics and Security, Luhut Panjaitan, made a three-day visit to Papua. His
trip to the nation’s easternmost region stood out for two key reasons.
First, Papua is a priority for the current administration,
and the visit by one of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s closest trustees follows the
President’s earlier travels
to the disaffected area. Clearly, this latest trip was important — not only
for the central government but also for Papuans.
Second, Luhut’s visit showed a strong commitment to ensuring
that Jokowi’s policies for the region are fulfilled — especially the
special autonomy law, which has been widely criticised
as ineffective when it comes to improving the welfare of Papuans.
Across the board, however, Luhut’s visit was nothing more than a
symbolic gesture, and totally meaningless for Papua’s many powerless indigenous
people. The key issue was whether Luhut’s visit would thoroughly address
the fundamental concern of most Papuans – genuine
trust for Jakarta. In this, the trip was an utter failure.
Since becoming part of Indonesia through the deeply flawed Act of Free
Choice, facilitated by the United Nations in 1969, Papua has been treated
poorly by the government and many Indonesians. This mistreatment includes
inefficient policies, intensive and brutal ‘security’, and racial prejudice –
all of which has led to distrust and limited sympathy on the part of Papuans
toward the Indonesian government. Thus, a visit by a political figure as
prominent as Luhut made locals skeptical rather than optimistic.
Their cynicism was warranted, as Luhut’s visit did not touch on Papua’s
fundamental problem: its political status. Instead of addressing Papua’s
aspirations for independence, Luhut preferred to discuss the progress of
developmental programs. And the more he avoided talking about Papua’s political
problems, the more the current administration showed to the international
community its inability for handling ethnic-based conflict.
Adding salt to the wound, the concept of dialogue, which many have
repeatedly vowed to be an
important and long overdue step for resolving longstanding grievances, did
not receive the minister’s attention at all.
In contrast to this Papua visit are Luhut’s recent trips to PNG and
Fiji, two supporters of Indonesia’s ‘internalisation’ of the Papua issue.
Using economic diplomacy, in the form of ad hoc economic
assistance and bilateral agreements, the primary objective of these visits was
to defuse the Papuan issue in the Pacific — particularly the role of the United
Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), which was granted observer status in
the Melanesian Spearhead Group in 2015. In exchange for Jakarta’s support, the
Indonesian government hopes PNG and Fiji can either contain the Papua issue or
keep it on the sidelines in the Pacific region.
Luhut’s visit to Papua also failed to make any breakthrough in the
security sphere. Given his background as a former army general and his current
position related to security matters, he was expected to tackle one of the most
contentious issues in Papua — initiatives to build a new army territorial
command in Manokwari and a police brigade headquarters in Wamena.
Another key security issue overlooked was the so-called joint expedition
involving the Army, or TNI. While the expedition includes civilians, it is
dominated by 670 military personnel, including the Special Armed Forces Command
(Kopassus) – a group that has been accused of gross human rights
violations in the region.
Supposedly, the expedition is conducting research and collecting data
related to Papua’s natural resources and its people – even though this is at
odds with the Army’s primary duties as stated in the TNI law Number 34/2004.
Instead, Luhut merely promised to resolve past human rights cases,
without giving any details on how such a promise would be met. This commitment
can mostly be seen as lip service, particularly since two prominent cases
involving security forces from the past two years remain unresolved — the
shooting of civilians at Paniai
in 2014, and a raid, burning and arrests at Timika
Luhut’s visit also failed to address the contentious problem of massive
investment across Papua. Investment-driven policies have been widely criticised
as not improving Papuans’ quality of life. In fact, many “giant” private
investors — mostly palm oil plantations and massive agricultural projects such
as the Rajawali group, Sampoerna Group, Medco Group, Sinar Mas Group, Salim
Group, Musim Mas Group — have been exploiting many local forests after
receiving forest utilisation licenses (HPH) from Jakarta.
Many indigenous Papuans have lived in these forests for centuries. In
many cases, these “giants” have bypassed and sidelined local tribes to run
their businesses. Additionally, such investment is useless as the bulk of
Papuans lack sufficient skills to take benefit from these projects.
Migration was another issue overlooked by the minister. According to the
Justice and Peace Secretariat of the Jayapura Bishopic Mission, huge numbers of
people transmigrating on a daily basis has negatively affected the indigenous
population by subordinating Papuans in the cultural, political, and economic
spheres. This shift in population leads to never-ending conflict between
settlers from outside islands and indigenous Papuans. If not addressed, the
transmigration policy will only exaggerate the current demographic structure in
Papua, further straining relations between the central government and locals.
Without discussing any of these crucial issues, Luhut’s visit casts
doubt on how
the government is handling the area and most importantly whether it can
build trust for Jakarta among Papuans.
Accordingly, his visit will be seen by Papuans as another ‘show’ by government
officers rather than as genuine and meaningful action. All in all, Luhut’s trip
to Papua remains merely symbolic for many indigenous people. It would seem that
once again pomp and ceremony has trumped the needs of Papuans.
Ringgi Wangge is a researcher at the Marthinus Academy, Jakarta.