A new approach to building a new Papua
Jakarta Post, Opinion News – Saturday, February 16, 2008
Marcellus Rantetana, Jakarta
Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu is hosting a big meeting of Papua development partners in Jayapura on Feb. 15-21, 2008, with the theme “Coordination and Synchronization for People Driven Development”. The meeting is part of his efforts to coordinate and synchronize donor support for Papua development programs.
In this case, he is one step ahead in controlling external support as most local governments quite often are not aware and do not understand donor activities in their areas. Donors undertaking activities in Papua will be present, while several ambassadors and representatives of the World Bank, the United Nations and a number of donor agencies will deliver speeches.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla will deliver a speech to officially open the meeting Saturday, followed by remarks from five Cabinet ministers. Regents, mayors and heads of ministerial representative offices will be present as well.
This meeting is one of many efforts to boost Papua’s development. In 2001 the region was granted special autonomy status with a special allocation of funds, under the premise that the management and use of the natural wealth of Papua had not yet been optimally utilized to enhance the living standards of native Papuans, resulting in a deep wealth gap between Papua province and other regions, and violations of the basic rights of Papuans.
It was expected that with this special autonomy, Papua would soon catch up with other regions in the country. Yet, it has been six years since the law was passed, but the welfare and living standards in Papua, especially for native Papuans, have not significantly changed. Papua still tops the list of poverty incidence, school dropouts, illiteracy, malnutrition and many others.
Last year, the President issued Presidential Instruction No. 5/2007 on the acceleration of the development of Papua and West Papua provinces, instructing 11 Cabinet members to support the acceleration program.
In terms of resources, Papua definitely is not short of funds. In fact, some suspect the high prices of commodities in Papua is in part due to an excessive supply of money in the region. According to a document issued by the Papua Provincial Development Planning Board, there are 57 donor-funded projects in Papua engaging in various sectors, including health, education, local economy and gender equality, spending millions of dollars every year.
The provincial budget jumped from Rp 0.59 trillion in 2001 to Rp 2.04 trillion in 2002, further increased to Rp 2.43 trillion in 2003, to Rp 2.45 trillion in 2004 and to Rp 2.72 trillion in 2005.
We can fairly ask how much of these funds have been and will directly benefit Papuans, especially native Papuans, and how much are used for overhead. The governor has repeatedly expressed his concern about the imbalance between official expenditures and public expenditures. Most of the local government funds are still used to finance official-related activities, with only a small proportion used for people-related expenditures.
In helping Papua, we must make sure we do not repeat our experiences in promoting development in various parts of the country that ended up without very little to show for the money spent. In this regard, we have a lot of experience in promoting development in regions through thousands of projects throughout the country that have resulted in billions of dollars of internal as well as external debt, yet we can hardly point to any successes generated by these efforts.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been put into agriculture, yet we are still struggling with the production of rice, soybeans, sugar and others.
Why? Because we left out the farmers and the government pretended to be the rice producers, so they decided what seeds the farmers must use and how much rice to produce. Even much larger amounts were invested in energy and infrastructure, yet we are still short of electricity, driving on bad roads and suffering from floods every year.
Why? Because we did not care about the results of our work, the most important thing being to disburse the money and close projects on time. These projects were neatly organized from the center (Jakarta) down to the village level. Everything was well planned and organized, except for forgetting to involve the people that were supposed to be the beneficiaries. They were invited whenever their signatures were needed. And the people were happy because they were given free meals.
This approach, however, has destroyed the self-reliance and self-capacity of grassroots communities. In Syuru village in Asmat regency, like in many other villages in Papua, the self-help community culture in developing the village is already forgotten. All housing, roads and general equipment in need of maintenance are left to deteriorate, waiting and hoping for assistance from the government (“A Multi Stakeholder Synthesis of the Development Situation in Papua”, UNDP 2005).
Hence, if we want to be successful in Papua, we better make sure to take the people along. Local people need to be empowered, their institutions need to be strengthened, so whenever we all leave Papua in the future, the Papuans will be able to manage their own resources, making the best out of them without destroying them, and solve their own problems.
In this regard, a lot still needs to be done, as clearly spelled out in the 2006-2011 Papua Province Medium-Term Plan. Among others, the structure of the provincial, regency/municipal governments does not yet reflect the true needs of government functions in line with the law on special autonomy. The structure has tended to get larger recently, with additional units without proper prior analysis.
The capacity of government officials at all levels is far from adequate to properly assume their roles and functions, which in turn has resulted in poor service delivery. Planning is based on the subjective creativity of the planners instead of the real needs of the people. Fund management is characterized by lack of transparency and accountability. And the people are yet to be involved in the decision-making process.
Measures to overcome these problems demand our patience and often seem to be fruitless, as they will only generate meaningful results in the long run. This of course contradicts our desire to generate results as soon as possible so we can claim success. But then we are confronted with the question, “Are we really serious about helping the Papuans get out of their current condition or are we actually serving our own interests?”
There is no doubt that we all want to do our best to help the Papuans. It does not really matter if sometimes our efforts seem to be going nowhere, as long as we are sure that we are doing right and are on the right track. As the governor puts it, we do the planting and let God do the watering!
The writer is a staff member at Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Partnership.