Monday, August 22, 2011

Who is in charge of Papua?

Neles Tebay, Jayapura

Papua looks to have turned into a land of violence. Between July and August this year alone, 15 civilians and nine members of security forces fell victim to shooting incidents, and another 19 civilians were victims of clashes between civilians.

All these acts of violence exploded when leadership was barely present. Barnabas Suebu ended his five-year term as the governor on July 24. The central government has appointed Director General of Regional Development Syamsul Arief Rivai as acting governor, whose jobs include ensuring the gubernatorial election, which is expected to be held in October run peacefully.

In neighboring West Papua, the problem related to the gubernatorial election has not been settled yet either. The central government appointed Director General of Nation Unity and Political Affairs Tanribali Limo the acting governor of the province, just a few days after the gubernatorial election took place with a very low turnout.

The central government sparked controversy in forming the West Papua version of the Papua People’s Assembly (MRP), a blatant violation the 2001 Papua Special Autonomy Law. Jakarta clearly imposed its will on the Papuans in the case of the establishment of the new MRP in West Papua province.

At the same time, the leadership of the Papua People’s Assembly in the Papua province was elected but has not been installed, and therefore the assembly cannot conduct its duty as mandated by the special autonomy law.

Amid the political division, demand for referendum in Papua is also getting louder. Thousands of indigenous Papuans staged a peaceful demonstration recently, raising their demand for a referendum.

More Papuans are expected to join the call for referendum because the government has failed to consistently implement the Papua’s autonomy law. Neither the government has any plan to comprehensively evaluate enforcement of the special autonomy law despite its 10 years of existence.

The government has not demonstrated its political will to address corruption that is rampant in Papua and West Papua provinces. The Papuans get the impression that the central government is deliberately protecting the corrupt officials in the two provinces although some public officials were brought to justice for graft.

Lately, certain groups in Papua have been putting pressure on the central government to form a Central Papua province. They are hoping to communicate their aspiration to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

All those events only conclude that the general situation in Papua and West Papua provinces is messy and chaotic.

Papuans view the central government has no united response to this chaotic situation in Papua. It is clearly manifested in the different comments raised by government officials in Jakarta. It seems that each state institution has its own opinion on Papua and its problems.

At the grassroots level, several state institutions have been touted as influential forces, at least in dealing with the Papua issue. The people always talk about the involvement of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), the Indonesian Military, the National Police, the Home Ministry and Office of the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.

The presence of the five institutions is strongly felt by the Papuans in their daily lives, as against other state institutions. Most Papuans in the rural area have never heard state agencies except for the five institutions.

Despite the government’s commitment to a prosperity approach for Papua, people in the remote villages continue experiencing the implication of a security approach, adopted by the five institutions. Unfortunately, each of the institutions advance their respective missions. They even have conflicting interpretations on the situation on the land of Papua.

As a result, often Papuans feel they are misunderstood by these institutions. They feel accepted by one state institution but ignored by others.

Therefore, the Papuans want to know how Yudhyono will address the mess in Papua.

The fundamental question will be: Who cares about Papua?

Papuans still remember vividly Yudhoyono’s remarks in his state address on Aug. 16, 2010. He declared the government’s commitment to a constructive communication with the Papuans.

Since then the Papuans have been waiting for the realization of the promise. They have been waiting for a special envoy who is officially appointed by Yudhoyono to visit Papua and prepare the way for constructive communication.

Papuans find nobody within the government is entrusted to establish the communication with the Papuans to address their grievances, needs, aspirations and hopes.

With the absence of such an appointed person, Papuans do not know whom they can talk to in Jakarta.

Every minister is busy with their respective duties.

Taking the present situation on the ground into consideration, there is an urgent need of having somebody who is fully in charge of the whole western half of the Island of New Guinea.

Being a special envoy, the appointed person will be representing the central government for the whole territory of Papua and communicating official positions and messages from Jakarta. The special envoy should be officially appointed by the President. The appointment should be based on a Presidential decree that elaborates his duty. It will give the appointee a strong legal foundation.

Without the presence of a special envoy, Papuans will believe they have been left alone. If that happens, the Papuans will seek their own ways to articulate their grievances. It will come as no surprise, therefore, if Papua becomes an international issue in the near future.

The writer is a lecturer at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology in Abepura, Papua.