Asia - Pacific

Indonesia: Papua group rejects bid to extend special autonomy

Armed group seeking separation from Indonesia claims autonomy does not help Papuans, experts call for dialogue

Erric Permana and Hayati Nupus   | 30.09.2020
Indonesia: Papua group rejects bid to extend special autonomy

JAKARTA, Indonesia 

Rallies against the extension of special autonomy for Papua have emerged in Indonesia's easternmost province, as well as another major city, Makassar in South Sulawesi province, since last week.

Protesters have dismissed the plan to prolong the special autonomy law, which they argue does not help Papuans. Under the law, Special Autonomy for Papua and West Papua provinces will expire in 2021.

An armed group in the region has also said that they would reject the extension of special autonomy for Papua and West Papua.

Sebby Sambom, the spokesman for the Free Papua Movement (OPM), said the special status was not what the Papuan people wanted, asserting that the group sought independence and separation from Indonesia.

"We warn you to stop immediately," Sebby told Papua Governor Lukas Enembe and the central government in a written statement released Monday.

Like, Aceh, another province in the Southeast Asian Archipelago nation that also enjoys special autonomy, Papua and West Papua receive funds from the central government for their status.

Since the special autonomy funding is expected to end next year, the government and lawmakers have added its revision onto the priority list of the 2020 legislative schedule.

Previously, President Joko Widodo had asked for an evaluation of the special autonomy funds for Papua and West Papua.

Seeking to reform the funds, he wanted a comprehensive evaluation of their effectiveness, as well as of the governance, including on transparency and accountability.

So far, the fund has provided a total of 94.24 trillion Indonesian rupiahs ($6.3 billion) to the Papua and West Papua governments from 2002 to 2020.

Last week, Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs said the law did not need an extension to remain in effect.

Mahfud said the government would only revise several articles on the extension of special autonomy funding, not the status itself.

The government also plans to revise the division of Papua into five, rather than the previous two, subregions.


- Improving governance, dialogue

A prominent figure in the educational sector in Papua, Samuel Tabuni said conflict remained and human rights violations remained rife in Papua under special autonomy, while its locals were still a minority in their own land.

"If the government wants to continue special autonomy without paying attention to these three things, then it will be useless and conflicts will continue to occur," Samuel told Anadolu Agency.

He added that the central government and Papuans should sit and plan together for Papua's future.

However, he continued, the central government did not involve conflict actors in resolving Papuan issues.

"As a result, only conflicts have happened for the past two decades. Even though there is development, more people die due to conflicts," said Samuel.

Meanwhile, Samuel argued that by dividing Papua into five provinces, the government sought to build more power in the region.

"As long as there are no technical regulations to protect indigenous Papuans, then no policy will benefit Papuans," he said.

"Papua's population is only around two million people. We should strengthen these two million people and protect their rights so that any expansion remains protected," Samuel added.


- Dialogue between representatives

Cahyo Pamungkas, a researcher in the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said special autonomy would be effective if there was dialogue between the central government and representatives of the Papuan people.

"It can be representatives of indigenous Papuans, Papuan religious institutions or political groups that want separation from Indonesia," he explained.

Special autonomy extended without dialogue will be ineffective, especially as a resolution tool in Papua, said Cahyo.


- Largest source of local government budget

Meanwhile, Djohermansyah Djohan, a regional autonomy observer, assessed that a failure to extend the Papua special autonomy fund would affect the local government budget as the fund accounted for about 60% of the Papua's provincial budget.


"If not extended, there will be degradation in public services and poverty reduction efforts," the former director-general of regional autonomy, told Anadolu Agency on Monday.

Djohermansyah admitted that there had been many issues over the past two decades, especially in terms of the funds' effectiveness.


Therefore, improvements in the welfare, education and health of indigenous Papuans remain ambiguous.

Poverty levels are high in Papua, with many attributing this to mismanagement of special autonomy funds.

"Hence, there must be improvements to the fund transfer model, as well as supervision and accountability."

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