Sun, 23 Feb 2003

Jakarta sabotages Papua's autonomy

Kanis Dursin Staff Writer The Jakarta Post Jayapura

The decision to split up Papua into three provinces has eroded what little trust the Papuans had developed toward the government since the implementation of the special autonomy law on Jan. 1, 2002.

This decision also sends out a strong message to other troubled provinces, particularly Aceh, that the central government has no intention to honor agreements into which it voluntarily enters.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri issued Decree No. 1/2003 dividing Papua into the three provinces of Papua, Central Irian Jaya and West Irian Jaya. Dated Jan. 27, the decree serves the political interests of the central government and power-hungry opportunists in Papua more than the well-being of its people.

Dividing Papua, home to 2.3 million people, into several provinces will surely bring the government closer to the people, accelerate development, and boost indigenous Papuans' involvement in developing the province. In comparison, Java, which is one- third the size of Papua, is divided up into six provinces, including the capital of Jakarta.

But the decree -- a copy of which was faxed to the Papua governor's office from a telephone kiosk in Jakarta instead of the office of the home affairs ministry -- violates Law No. 21/2001, article 76 of the special autonomy law, which clearly states that any move to divide Papua into several provinces must be with the approval of the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP).

The Papuan People's Assembly, the highest legislative body in autonomous Papua, has not yet been established, but the central government has already divided the province. This leaves Papuan leaders and intellectuals wondering whether Jakarta is serious about implementing the special autonomy law there.

The Papuan administration, fully backed by its legislature, has set up a joint team to look into legal flaws in the decree and to file a judicial review with the Supreme Court.

"We want to show that we Papuans understand how law works," Papua legislature (DPRP) chairman John Ibo told The Jakarta Post.

However, the Presidential Decree goes far beyond the legal wrangle. By unilaterally dividing Papua into three provinces, the government has taken over the function of the Assembly and has raised questions as to the government's sincerity in granting the special autonomy status to Papua.

Under the special autonomy law, the Assembly has the authority to approve candidates for the positions of governor and deputy governor. It also has the final say in the selection of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) members representing Papua, and enacts bills submitted by the Papuan House of Representatives (DPRP) and the Papuan governor.

The absence of the Papuan People's Assembly has deprived DPRP and the governor their rights to submit badly-needed regulations of the special autonomy law. The law has never been implemented since it came into effect in January 2002, thanks to Jakarta.

The draft of a government regulation on the establishment of the Assembly was submitted to the home affairs ministry six months ago, but has not yet been approved. Jakarta has clearly sabotaged the implementation of the special autonomy law by delaying the establishment of the Papuan People's Assembly.

This explains, at least partially, why Papuan leaders and intellectuals reacted angrily to Presidential Decree No. 1/2003.

John Ibo accuses the government of duping Papuans into accepting the special autonomy law. "We have been cheated repeatedly and even now, we are being deceived," John said.

The special autonomy law -- drafted by Papuan leaders and intellectuals -- was adopted to accommodate the Papuans' strong aspirations toward independence, which emerged following the forced resignation of former dictator Soeharto in May 1998.

The law allows Papua to have "its own government", complete with the MRP people's assembly, the House, an anthem, a flag and symbol, as well as a local political party. The role of the central government is limited to foreign policy, defense and security, monetary and fiscal matters, religion and the judicial system.

The province is also allowed to retain up to 90 percent of its land and building tax, 80 percent of its revenues from forestry, fishery and general mining industries, and 70 percent of receipts from the oil and natural gas sector.

Papuans had now finally begun to feel that they were "masters in their own land". Indigenous Papuans have taken over almost 90 percent of all key positions in the province, from the gubernatorial office and the provincial legislature down to the village level. Under the special autonomy arrangement, Papua was basically "an independent province within a sovereign country".

The law somewhat successfully muffled the demands for independence among indigenous Papuans. Since the autonomy law came into effect, pro-independence rallies were conspicuously absent from Jayapura streets, including at the Papua legislature compound -- until the announcement of the above Decree.

Papuan leaders and intellectuals suspect that the division of the province into three smaller provinces stems from "groundless fears" that the special autonomy law, if fully implemented, would lead to Papuan independence; a consequence Indonesia cannot afford, following the loss of East Timor in a United Nations- sponsored referendum in 1999.

Jakarta is particularly suspicious of the Papuan assembly, whose members are to hail from tribal societies, religious leaders and women's groups. Most leaders, if not all, of the Lembaga Masyarakat Adat, or tribal communities, are members of the Papua Presidium Council, a loose organization that has campaigned for and independent Papua. This explains why Jakarta has not endorsed the draft of a government regulation on the establishment of the Papuan People's Assembly.

The government seems to think that dividing the province would weaken the secessionist movement and give Jakarta free reign to monitor and control the leaders of the poorly-organized Free Papua Movement (OPM). If this is true, then the government has not learned its lesson: A small population does not prevent a people from fighting for and achieving independence, as proved by the East Timor experience.

In any case, the welfare of its people seems to have taken a back seat. Papuans were not consulted, and their social and cultural conditions were not taken into account in splitting up the province. In some parts, borders run through ancestral lands and divide people from the same minor ethnic groups into two different provinces. This, according to local leaders, would sooner or later create horizontal conflicts resulting from land disputes along provincial borders.

Consulting Papuans before splitting up the province is necessary, not only because Papua is an autonomous province, but also because the division concerns their lives. Involving the Papuans in decision-making is part and parcel of its right as an autonomous province. Denying them of such an opportunity is tantamount to negating their existence as an integral part of the country, which has fueled renewed demands for independence.

The controversial decree has clearly served as a wake-up call for indigenous Papuans, that not everything is fine with the special autonomy status.

"This (the decree) will harden our struggle for independence," said a prominent youth leader in Jayapura last week, expressing his conviction that, sooner or later, Papua would be independent.