Tri Indah Oktavianti, Jakarta – With special autonomy funding for Papua approaching its expiration date this year, the government has called for a limited legal revision to allow money to keep flowing and to begin new development projects in the region.
Critics, however, believe the government is missing a grand opportunity to review the effectiveness of Papua's special autonomy status after two troubled decades.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD announced on Tuesday that the government had proposed revising two articles of the 2001 law granting Papua special autonomy – Article 34 on special autonomy funds and Article 76 on regional expansion.
"The special autonomy status was implemented in 2001, and it does not need some kind of extension. What needs to be extended is the funding – the special autonomy funds," he said at an online workshop with the Supreme Audit Agency, according to a press statement.
The law stipulates that special autonomy funds for Papua expire in November 2021, which is 20 years after their inception. Special autonomy was granted to Papua and West Papua in an attempt to close the development gap between them and the rest of Indonesia, and as a means to pursue political compromise and conflict resolution.
But critics contend that the government has largely failed to bring welfare and stability to the restive region.
Dismissing criticism regarding the effectiveness of the special autonomy status, Mahfud noted that rampant corruption and misuse of funds by elites from the region had hampered the government's development goals.
With a proposal to increase the allocation of state funds to the General Allocation Fund (DAU) from the current 2 percent to 2.5 percent, Mahfud promised stronger oversight to prevent corruption.
Moreover, the government proposed that three new administrative regions be established in the provinces of Papua and West Papua as part of a strategy to ensure the distribution of wealth and delivery of services from the government to the Papuan people.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, the House of Representatives formed a special committee to deliberate Papua's special autonomy bill and named 30 politicians to serve on the committee.
Lawmakers from nine political factions on Tuesday also unanimously agreed to appoint Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Komarudin Watubun as the head of the committee, alongside the Golkar Party's Agung Widyantoro, the Gerindra Party's Yan Parmenas and the National Awakening Party's (PKB) Marthen Douw as deputies.
Upon his appointment, Komarudin vowed to speed up the bill's deliberation on the two proposed articles, especially with the House entering another recess beginning April 10. He also promised to schedule official visits to Papua in order to gather local perspectives on the special autonomy status.
As reported by tempo.co, House Deputy Speaker Azis Syamsuddin said the committee would discuss whether or not to renew the 2001 law and to study its possible impacts. It will also study the viability of expansions of cities, regencies and provinces, as well as to review the development strategy in the region.
Ani Soetjipto, a lecturer and Papua expert from the University of Indonesia, said, however, that regional expansion in Papua would bring little change and could end up fuelling new security problems.
"Papuans think that this expansion idea is a mere attempt of manipulation by Jakarta. Expansion also means more military command centers are established with more deployment of police and soldiers to the region," Ani told The Jakarta Post. "They always fail to bring peace."
Indonesia has been widely criticized for the cycle of violence in its easternmost provinces. Experts say the unrest is the consequence of an outdated, security-oriented approach to Papuan issues, characterized by the mass deployment of military and police personnel. Despite the heavy presence of forces, conflict has continued to occur, killing both armed combatants and unarmed civilians.
Sem Awom, spokesperson for Petisi Rakyat Papua (Papuan People's Petition) and Papua coordinator at the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), described Papua's current situation as "dreadful", especially after last year's Intan Jaya killing saw more security personnel to be deployed to the region.
He said many women and children were now forced to live in shelters as violence occurred around them on the regular. Trust in the government and the military had been eroded among Papuans, Sem said.
"The special autonomy law was proposed as a middle path to bridge political tensions in Papua. But all that Jakarta can think of is [throwing money at Papuans]," he said in a recent interview. "That is not what Papuans need. [...]. Jakarta needs to open room for discussion."
According to a 2020 report from Statistics Indonesia (BPS), Papua and West Papua scored lowest on the human development index among the nation's provinces. The low scores reflect low development in terms of income, health and education, among other indicators.
BPS also noted that Papua and West Papua struggled with the highest rates of illiteracy and poverty in the country.
The plan to revise some provisions of the prevailing law would only serve to leave Papuan people behind, said Rosinta Dewi, Papuan studies researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
"Papuans want to use it [the expiration date of the funds] as a moment to evaluate the special autonomy policy, including the impact of the program on Papua's development," she told the Post this week.