Celebrating direct election of 2 Papuan Governors

Remember, three years ago democracy has been installed in Papua and West Papua.

From Editorial, The Jakarta Post July 2006

After four months of waiting, the people of Papua and West Irian Jaya provinces finally saw the leaders they elected back in March take office Monday. Abraham Octavianus Atururi and Rahimin Katjong entered the history books as the first governor and deputy governor of West Irian Jaya. Their inauguration Monday should close the protracted debate over the legality of the province, a debate which colored the gubernatorial election there.

Residents of Papua province also saw the swearing in of Barnabas Suebu and Alex Hasegem as governor and deputy governor, respectively, after a political tug-of-war between Suebu and election loser John Ibo, who is also the speaker of the provincial legislature. Suebu’s inauguration also marked a reconciliation between local political elites, whose dispute caused billions of rupiah worth

of development projects to ground to a halt, harming the interests of the people.

And there is more good news for Papua. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is scheduled to visit the province from Thursday through Sunday, and is expected to come bearing gifts. During his trip, Yudhoyono is expected to announce a presidential instruction on the acceleration of development in the province.

The instruction, which the President calls a new deal for Papua, focuses on health, vocational education, acceleration of basic infrastructure development, food security and affirmative action measures to give more locals the opportunity to hold posts within the administration, the police and military forces. This new deal is being widely seen as a real attempt by the government to resolve the long-standing problems in Papua, following the successful peace process in Aceh.

Wednesday’s visit will mark the second time in the past three months Yudhoyono has traveled to Papua, which has been plagued by a low-level separatist movement for almost four decades.

With new, democratically elected leaders in place, the people of Papua and West Irian Jaya, both of which are blessed with abundant natural resources, can now really begin to hope for a better life under their special autonomy status.

Five years since the passage of the law on special autonomy for Papua, a status which also is shared by West Irian Jaya, people in the provinces have yet to truly benefit from their rich natural resources. According to the latest data from the State Ministry for the Development of Disadvantaged Regions, 19 of 20 regencies across Papua were classified in 2005 as underdeveloped.

A famine last year that killed more than 50 people in the province’s Yahukimo regency highlighted the paradox of Papua, which has since 2002 received almost Rp 10 trillion in funds from the central government as part of the revenue sharing agreement in the special autonomy law.

Most of the money, however, has been spent on routine expenditures, with a small portion allotted for basic human development such as education and health care. A lack of experience in budget management and institutional incapacity have resulted in Papua wasting much of this money, throwing away the golden opportunity offered by special autonomy.

A series of violent clashes, culminating in the tumultuous rally against gold mining firm PT Freeport Indonesia in mid-March, just a few days after the gubernatorial election, and the choice of 43 Papuans to seek asylum in Australia the previous month, only added insult to injury.

All of these events mirror the chronic problems that remain unaddressed, if not unheeded, and which could haunt Papua and West Irian Jaya’s long journey to prosperity. Many observers have said the absence of local participation in decisions made at the central level concerning the provinces is the main reason special autonomy has not worked as originally envisioned.

Renewing the debate over the legitimacy of the decision to divide Papua, or Irian Jaya before 2000, into two provinces is irrelevant, with even those originally opposed to the move now accepting the existence of West Irian Jaya province.

Common challenges now bind Papua and West Irian Jaya. The two provinces face the daunting challenge of honoring and protecting the sociocultural, economic and political rights of locals, who have long been associated with illiteracy, isolation, backwardness and poverty.

The success of native Papuan students in winning prestigious international scientific awards in the past few years is a hint of the vast, largely untapped potential of Papuans.

Under special autonomy, billed as a dignified solution to past disappointments with Jakarta’s policies toward Papua, both Papua and West Irian Jaya will have to catch up with developed regions, or perhaps leapfrog them, in the coming 15 years. By that time the central government will have stopped pouring special autonomy funds into the two eastern-most provinces.

Suebu, who served as governor of Irian Jaya between 1988 and 1993, and Atururi, a retired Marine brigadier general, will now be responsible for translating the new deal for Papuans into action.

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