Discourse: ‘Papua, a land with 1,001 vested interests’

Jakarta post interview with the Mr. Bambang Dharmono about his new strategies of development and more integrated and positive communication with Papua.

The Jakarta Post | Fri, 12/16/2011 8:29 AM

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appointed in early October Lt. Gen. (ret.) Bambang Dharmono, former Aceh military commander and negotiator representing Indonesia for the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM), to lead the Presidential Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua (UP4B). The Jakarta Post’s Nani Afrida recently talked to Bambang about his strategies to unlock bottlenecks hampering development in the two restive provinces. The following are excerpts from interview:

Question: What is actually the root of the problem in Papua?

Answer: First, the problem revolves around different perceptions about the annexation of Papua into Indonesia from the Dutch rule in 1969 based on a United Nations (UN) ruling. Before that there was a referendum in Papua to determine the province’s fate, organized by the UN. Based on the referendum, the UN then issued a resolution to include Papua into Indonesia in a vote that saw 80 countries agree to the decision while 31 others abstained. No countries opposed the idea. However, there was a group that rejected the referendum results, claiming it was rigged. The group, as we know it today, is the Free Papua Movement (OPM). These different perceptions have lasted until now. Younger generations of Papuans still cannot get the history straight. Perhaps, there should be more local content on historical perspectives in the school curriculum to help ease the differences in perception.

The second problem is undoubtedly corruption. Native Papuan leaders whom I’ve met have regularly provided me with input on graft cases afflicting the province. I received a stack of corruption files more than a meter tall from them. The province has received trillions of rupiah from the special autonomy fund which mostly has not been used for the people’s welfare. I am sure that corruption has played a role in the sluggish channeling of the fund. There is also a correlation of the violent conflict with corruption, in which many corrupt Papuan leaders usually provoke the sentiment of independence when the law enforcers or audit agencies are about to check their financial accountability. So I have come to the conclusion that what happened in Papua is a combination of disharmony resulting from the different perceptions of history and corruption.

Why has it taken so long to resolve the problems?

Not all Papuans are against the government and demand independence. There are 1,001 different interests in Papua today. The Papuan community structure is not a pyramid where you have a leader on the top. There is no single leader that can unite all tribes in Papua, unlike in Aceh where you have Hassan Tiro to whose leadership all the separatist combatants bowed. The structure in Papua is like a trapezium. Those in the upper level are people who have interests and have access to the mass media to deliver their provocations. The media quotes certain people on that level as though they represent all Papuans. That is not the case. Papuans cannot be united by a certain person. Those in the middle level usually follow the upper group, but it depends on the situation, while the people in the lower level are what I call the silent majority who have no affiliations, and whose voice is never channeled by the mass media. The lower-level group comprises tribes and visitors who want to live peacefully.

You have mentioned 1,001 interests in Papua. Specifically, what are they?

There are a lot, including the independence issue, hunger for power, and the need to nurture corruption. But for sure, there are no local election results that don’t end up at the Constitutional Court. It seems that the local leaders have difficulty in accepting defeat. Political and tribal interests have kept them fighting each other. You can see that there are 250 tribes in Papua today. And none are superior to the others. I don’t want to say this as a conflict but more a disharmony. There are horizontal and vertical disharmonies with no lines connecting them.

You prefer to hold a dialogue with Papua instead of negotiations?

With whom should we negotiate? There are many leaders with different interests. I encourage dialogue in Papua. But I don’t agree with the term dialogue between Jakarta and Papua because it seems that we want to implement what we have done in Aceh in Papua. Papua is more complex. Aceh is easier because they have Hasan Tiro as the leader. When Hasan Tiro said yes, everyone in Aceh would say the same. That’s why I prefer dialogue in which all Papuans can join in, including the OPM, which also has many factions.

Do you think the setting up of your unit means that related ministries and agencies dealing with Papua have failed to do their job?

I don’t like to blame other people. Right or wrong is relative. As you know, the special autonomy for Papua is a win-win solution. However, the implementation of the autonomy depends on the issue of provincial regulations and special local regulations. The central government will encourage provincial governments and legislators to immediately issue those regulations as they have been in limbo for a long time. The Papuans also want to be involved in managing the fund.

So what are your priorities?

My duty is to make sure that the special autonomy law is well implemented. The President has instructed that the problems in Papua be resolved based on three pillars; under the unity of Indonesia, special autonomy, and development acceleration. I also have a quick-win strategy in which I would focus more on developing the central part of Papua, in which most of the population is concentrated. Among the projects that we have prepared is to set up the largest pig farming center, a cement manufacturing facility and electricity infrastructure. These projects will be up and running next year. The central part of Papua, which also includes the restive area of Puncak Jaya, is where most of the tribes live and is the most underdeveloped area.

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