Don't Break Up Papua

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The plan to divide the province of Papua by establishing a new province in the southern part proves the inability of the central government to understand the roots of the problem there. This policy might satisfy a small number of the elite in Papua, but it will clearly do nothing to address the grievances felt by most of the people of Papua for years.

    During his first administration, President Joko Widodo tried to resolve the problems of Papua through an economic approach. It was hoped that the building of infrastructure, especially the Trans Papuan Highway, would reduce income inequality and spark growth. But the violence that broke out in a number of places in Papua between August and October proved that this approach was not effective.

    Therefore, it would be truly surprising if the government did not evaluate this policy and seek better alternative solutions. Usually, provinces are divided in order to improve the quality of public services and bring the government structure closer to the people. Dividing Papua means that the government once again has chosen the politics of redistributing prosperity. However, what the people of Papua actually want is the politics of recognizing that their esteem and dignity as original inhabitants and owners of the communal right of disposal have been disdained for years.

    There is no denying that most of the division of regions that have happened since the 1998 reformasi has been triggered by political demands. But this mistake was later corrected after the ministry of home affairs and the National Development Planning Agency found that 80 percent of the 223 autonomous regions failed to improve the quality of public services. Because of that, since 2014 there has been a moratorium on establishing new regions. Without a thorough study and proper preparations, the establishment of the province of South Papua will only be a repeat of the story of failure in other regions.

    The results of existing research do not make happy reading. A number of investigations have shown that regions resulting from these divisions have burdened state finances. The establishment of new provinces and regions needs new buildings such as government offices and additional police officers and military personnel. As a result, the only people who would benefit from dividing Papua would be a small number of the elite who would have the opportunity to try for the job of governor, or for official positions or seats in the Regional Representatives Council.

    Not only that, it could trigger conflict. Just look at the establishment of Polewali Mamasa Regency in South Sulawesi, which ended in violence. The establishment of Central Luwu Regency in 2013 led to demonstrations and clashes that killed one person. In a region that has smoldering discontent like Papua, the potential for violence as a result of dividing the region is far higher. The government must take this into consideration.

    Once again, the resolution of the protracted conflict in Papua must start from the roots. The results of a joint investigation by the Indonesian National Institute of Sciences (2019 and 2017) that mapped the roots of the conflict in Papua could be used as the basis. As well as the problem of history and the controversial integration of Papua, there is the problem of human rights abuses and violence by the security forces that have yet to be resolved fairly. Marginalization and discrimination against original Papuan people and the failure of development in Papua were also highlighted.

    The best way to solve the problem of Papua can only be achieved through dialogue. Although this will be tiring and difficult, it must begin and be implemented consistently.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine