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Not just about money

Jakarta Post Editorial - April 6, 2021

Jakarta – The government and the House of Representatives are preparing to amend the 2001 Papuan Special Autonomy Law to allow Jakarta to throw more money at the territory and form new provinces in the resource-rich land. Even though the 30-strong special House committee formed to debate the revision is led by and includes Papuan lawmakers, the move shows the intention of the political elite to dictate the future of Papua.

Ironically, the revision is being designed without a comprehensive evaluation of the 20-year policy that includes Papuan people. Periodical reviews of the special autonomy policy that engage all stakeholders have been largely absent as well. The distribution and destinations of the funds, which totaled Rp 127 trillion (US$9 billion) as of last year, have never been made accountable to the public, whether in Papua or the rest of the country.

The fact that Papua and West Papua have retained the highest provincial poverty rates after two decades of special autonomy has sparked allegations that much of the whopping amount of money has gone into the coffers of the local elite, their supporters and probably some others in Jakarta. Investigations into the alleged misuse of the special autonomy funds have only recently been launched, as such moves could provoke the local elite to mobilize their supporters to fight back.

Amid this lack of accountability and supervision, the government has proposed to increase the funds from 2 percent of the General Allocation Fund to 2.5 percent starting next year. It seems the government is seeking to reduce the long-standing problems plaguing Papua to a matter of money – the idea that more special autonomy funds will allow Jakarta to win more hearts and minds in Papua.

Beyond transferring money and building infrastructure, however, the government has failed to give Papuan people the sense of dignity that they need the most. The security approach – if not repression – that the government has maintained to deal with grievances in Papua, as evident in the deployment of police and military forces, is the most glaring example of Jakarta's reluctance to treat Papua as an equal and dignified partner.

The approach has created a stigma of "rebellion" around Papua, which has widened the gap between Papua and Jakarta, deepened resentment between them and, to some extent, fueled racism against ethnic Papuans.

The plan to establish new provinces is more proof of the disconnect. Regional division in Papua was initiated in 1999, under the brief presidency of B.J. Habibie, with the apparent aim of making it easier for Jakarta to control the territory. The Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) has resisted such administrative division, demanding that the government solve human rights violations in Papua first.

Many have called for a genuine dialog that involves local people to address Papuan problems and to discuss all matters related to the future of Papua, including the revision of the Special Autonomy Law. At the end of the day, Papuans want their rights to be respected, with or without special autonomy.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/paper/2021/04/05/not-just-about-money.htm