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Papuan special autonomy after nearly two decades: Scholars and religious groups weigh in

Jakarta Post - March 11, 2021

Jakarta – The special autonomy (otsus) status of Papua and West Papua has been at the core of the central government's claims that its policies in the provinces are on the right track.

But self-determination activists believe the arrangement has become a pretext for Jakarta to exert undue control over Papuans and that it should be rejected.

A number of other voices lie between these poles, and the nearly two decades of special autonomy have had many ups and downs.

The Jakarta Post has asked scholars, religious figures and politicians about their views on special autonomy, which has been increasingly contested as certain key provisions come up for renewal.

The following are excerpts from those interviews:

Agus Sumule of the University of Papua in Manokwari

I was invited to Jayapura in 2000 for a gathering with other scholars to discuss special autonomy. One aspect we talked about back then, which did not happen, was revealing historical truths.

I have written reports to evaluate special autonomy, but one thing is the need to talk about Law No. 12/1969 [on the formation of Irian Jaya province, the previous name for the provinces of Papua and West Papua, issued in 1969 after a controversial and contested referendum]. We need to talk about 1969 to end the antagonistic relations between Papua and Jakarta. But otsus has not allowed for such talk. After all this time, hopes of getting the truth about 1969 have been dashed. It is unfortunate, and we need to rectify this in the future. Agus Sumule wrote an evaluation of Papuan special autonomy in May 2020. It can be found here.

Adriana Elisabeth of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)

Special autonomy covers three aspects: political compromise, development and conflict resolution. Special autonomy has yet to achieve political compromise, and development has not been fully achieved either if we look at the human development index, even though infrastructure has indeed improved connectivity.

Special autonomy has also not yet brought conflict resolution to Papua, which has had repeated violence and recent shootings. That is why people say that special autonomy cannot provide solutions to problems in Papua, or to use a more extreme term, that special autonomy is a failure.

Going forward, if special autonomy continues, Jakarta and Papua have to evaluate it. They have to pay special attention to good governance, transparency and accountability, especially regarding the budget leaks. How should special autonomy be evaluated? It has to be done from the kampung level. Indeed, Papua is a big area, and reaching out to each kampung takes a lot of time. But if you want to really evaluate, it has to be done from the kampung level, not just superficially in cities or at the provincial level.

If it is discontinued, they have to find another formula that can respond to two things: the improvement of the human development index and the development of a new business model that does not reproduce violence in Papua. Papua is rich in natural resources, and I see why the violence is recurring. It is because the existing business model reproduces violence. Special autonomy or not, this has to be addressed.

Sidney Jones of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC)

In terms of empowerment, special autonomy has failed, even though there has been a Papuanization of local government. In reality, Papuan political authority is heavily constrained by other Indonesian institutions. In terms of weakening the independence movement, special autonomy has failed, although that movement itself remains divided. Otsus has succeeded in raising per capita income but has failed to pull Papua out of the bottom ranking of the poorest province in Indonesia.

The original goal of otsus was empowerment in the interests of keeping Papua within the Indonesian republic. It was a response to the support for independence demonstrated during the "Papuan Spring" of 2000 and represented a belief that the state needed to acknowledge Papuan political grievances without legitimizing separatism.

Support for that approach disappeared as soon as President Abdurrahman Wahid was forced out of office. No president since has been genuinely interested in empowerment. If they had been, they would have moved faster on the creation of the Papuan People's Council (MRP) and given it a stronger mandate; found a way to allow local political parties as originally envisaged under article 28 of Law 21/2001 on otsus; facilitated the creation of a local Truth and Reconciliation Commission as envisaged under Article 46; allowed Papua to move forward with a proposal requiring that all elected officials be indigenous Papuans; and ensured the rapid adoption of implementing regulations. It wasn't just Jakarta – Papuan politicians were also slow to do their part to implement the law.

Every president since Abdurrahman has believed that rapid economic development would make political grievances go away. This was never going to be the case. Increased income, less isolation and more education don't always bring loyalty to an ethnically distinct and disadvantaged part of a country; they sometimes result in increased political demands. In Papua, the problem was exacerbated by a huge influx of funds without proper oversight, which in some cases seemed little more than a cynical effort to buy off local elites.

The deliberation on whether otsus funds should continue should be an occasion for the Jokowi government, in consultation with a broad spectrum of Papuan academics, civil servants and community leaders (not just those known for pro-integration views), to think about a new strategy for Papua. It should move away from a narrow infrastructure approach toward one that embraces concerns about racism, human rights and the protection of indigenous Papuans, as well as how to improve education, health and the delivery of social services more generally.

Gomar Gultom of the Fellowship of Indonesian Churches

Otsus is still far from what I expected. Papuan people's prosperity has yet to show a significant improvement, while the economic and infrastructure development benefits the elites more. Law enforcement is harsh against the powerless but lenient toward the elites. Past human rights abuses have yet to be brought to court. Three out of five pillars of special autonomy have not been implemented: human rights tribunals, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and local political parties.

Otsus has become only a token for the central government [to make it seem] as if everything is pretty. The central government does not care about otsus' implementation. The idea behind this law is ideal and expected to be able to solve problems in Papua in a comprehensive way. The deliberation involved many stakeholders, especially Papuan people. But the ideal, the expectation, has been ignored by all presidents after Abdurrahman Wahid. They only keep this law as a sweetener, while ignoring the process of policy making. One proof of this ignorance is that the central government never facilitates the realization of special regional bylaws as mandated by the law.

Under Abdurrahman Wahid, the Papuan flag (Morning Star) was allowed. He respected Papuan identity and culture, and most importantly, no Papuans were shot.

We have to appreciate the Jokowi administration's emphasis on infrastructure development in Papua. But it would be better if the development were more participatory. The infrastructure drive has to be in line with the fundamental need of Papuans: respect for human rights.

At the moment, we need to seriously evaluate the special autonomy. But if the continuation of the special autonomy fund is only deliberated from Jakarta, the Fellowship of Indonesian Churches will just wait and see.

Paulus Christian Siswantoko of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference (KWI)

The mandate of the special autonomy law is a smart and wise political move from the government to bring peace to Papua. The hope was that with otsus, Papuans would have more prosperity, minimal human rights violations or no violations at all and no more discrimination. But after 20 years, these are still occurring. What is the indication? Separatism continues and Papuans raise the Morning Star flag. This has to be tackled by otsus. We recommend that the central government evaluate the special autonomy fund before allocating more funds. We support the continuation of the funds, but we need an evaluation first.

Regarding Catholic priests who speak out to the public rejecting special autonomy, they are indeed priests in Catholic churches across Papua. They are what we call "native priests", and they have their local leader, which is their respective bishop. What I know is that when they held a press conference rejecting special autonomy, they did not consult with their bishop. So it was an individual initiative. Another thing is that those who are under the Jayapura Diocese have been spoken to and have been asked to speak wisely because priests have to speak about peace, not division. They are not representative of KWI, not at all, because KWI is only in Jakarta.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2021/03/11/papuan-special-autonomy-after-nearly-two-decades-scholars-and-religious-groups-weigh-in.htm