Heru Andriyanto, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said on Monday that he would consider a proposal for the establishment of a new province in the mountainous central part of Papua, albeit in a disapproving tone.
The request for a third province on the island came from community leaders and religious figures during a meeting with the president in Wamena, Papua.
The president responded by saying that the government had placed a moratorium on the establishment of new provinces and districts, as he had been receiving many such proposals.
"To speak frankly from the start; we did place a moratorium on the establishment [of new districts and provinces] across Indonesia," Jokowi was quoted by the Presidential Staff Office as saying during the gathering.
"Why? Because there are already 183 proposals for new provinces, districts or municipalities on my desk. Once I approve one of them, others will line up in front of my door every day," the president said.
However, he indicated that he would give special consideration to Papua's Central Mountain area upon his return to Jakarta. "But especially for the Central Mountain area – please hold your applause – I will follow up," he said to applause from the audience.
The Central Mountain area is home to the indigenous Mee Pago and La Pago people, and it comprises 10 of the 29 districts in Papua Province.
The proposal was put forward by Bevadigi Balom, a local leader representing an association of Central Mountain communities.
Sixty-one tribal and community leaders from Papua visited the State Palace in Jakarta last month to ask for the creation of five new provinces to accommodate the political aspirations of various indigenous peoples in Indonesia's easternmost region.
They argued that the two existing provincial governments were unable to manage hundreds of Papuan tribes, each with its own culture and customs.
The president said at the time that the best he could do was to approve the creation of two or three new provinces on the island. But he pointed out that it was both very difficult and costly to set up a new province, and that the process required comprehensive and careful assessment.
West Papua was established in 1999 after it was split off from Papua. The two provinces enjoy special autonomy to accelerate development and boost prosperity. The island is shared with neighboring Papua New Guinea.