In Search of a Comprehensive Solution for Papua

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By: Vidhyandika D Perkasa

Local newspaper, Media Indonesia (April 30, 2013), quoted newly elected Papua Governor Lukas Enembe as saying that in August, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) would visit the province “to give a present to society in Papua, in the form of a new law on special autonomy called Otsus (Otonomi Khusus or Special Autonomy) Plus”.

Referring to the work of anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1954), SBY’s gift, in this case the Otsus Plus, represents a potlatch or a system of exchange of gifts. Gifts are made and reciprocated with interest.

In other words, there is no such thing as a free gift. Gift cycles engage people in a permanent commitment that articulates the dominant institution (Douglas, 1990).

So what is the motive behind the Otsus Plus to be given to the Papuan people? The word “present” in the Otsus case denotes the reciprocal but also asymmetric power relationship between two parties normally symbolized by material entitlement.

Metaphorically, a present could also be in the context of “giving a gift when such a person behaves or is expected to behave nicely or reach a certain achievement”. Are the Papuans behaving nicely so that they are entitled to the gift? Under what conditions? What kind of achievement have the Papuans achieved?

A present could also be an expression of joy. What is there to celebrate when the Papuans still live in hardship? Mauss argued that a gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity (and welfare) is a contradiction.

Special autonomy is indeed sensitive in its nature. Even though Otsus also regulates the transfer of authority politically, economically and culturally, the majority of Papuans simply understand Otsus as the pouring of an abundance of cash into the province.

Hence when individuals do not receive it, they then question where the money has gone or else they rebel to demand their share of the money.

With regards to Otsus Plus, without underestimating the good intentions of the central government to improve the situation in Papua through special autonomy, it is such a risky business to offer the Papuans a new regulation of Otsus Plus when the old Otsus remains problematic in its implementation.

When Otsus came under fire for failing to bring welfare to Papua, the government promised to audit the special autonomy funds.

Ironically, the result of the audit was never publicized. In broad understanding, the public does not know what has caused Otsus to malfunction.

Otsus Plus is no more than promises while fulfillment of promises is culturally sensitive for society in Papua. The government promised that old Otsus would bring a better life to society, but this has not been fulfilled. This only aggravates confusion, distrust and suspicion between Papua and the central government.

In a broader context, one can argue that finding the right formula for the betterment of the Papuan people’s well-being is indeed a work in progress and in process.

In other words, current policies on Papua remain “experimental” in nature. Although SBY has frequently highlighted his focus on welfare and equity of approach, the Papua policy has failed to curb social and political tensions or build public trust and satisfaction.

On the contrary, the situation in Papua tends to be more complex. Recently, from an international dimension, Indonesia was humiliated (again) through the opening of a Free Papua Movement (OPM, Organisasi Papua Merdeka) office in Oxford UK (United Kingdom).

The government assumed that the welfare and equity approach and the policies that translate such an approach would or could solve the complexity of Papua, it only simplified the magnitude of the problem. The government can not turn a blind eye to other fundamental problems in Papua.

It is therefore important to stop finding partial solutions, and shift to a comprehensive, integrated and multi-dimensional settlement. From an economic dimension it is clear that this is all about increasing welfare and justice in Papua through Otsus.

From a social-political dimension, the issues include weak governance due to low capacity of human resources and the prevalent tribal leadership which undermines the modern governmental system. For the latter, there has never been a serious effort to address the problem.

The social political dimension also covers efforts to establish a synergistic relationship between local governments in Papua and civil society groups to uphold transparency and accountability and attempts to advance the human dignity of the local Papuans on their own land.

From a legal dimension, there is an issue of solving human rights abuses and delivery of justice. For many years, the Papuans have experienced violence and intimidation that has created a collective memory of suffering (memoria passionis). For the Papuans the issue is “is not to forget and not to forgive” the atrocities they have suffered. Money will never help the victims wipe the memory of their suffering.

Such a feeling looks like “a pebble in the shoe”. If the government could solve this issue it would help the government regain trust among the Papuans. Sadly, the government has never taken this issue seriously.

The legal dimension also captures the matter of law enforcement, especially related to corruption. In remote and isolated areas, law enforcement is challenging due to the prevailing tribal (adat) law.

There is also the security dimension, which concerns stability and conflict management. To Papuans, security means the arrival of more troops which potentially sparks more acts of violence and abuse in the society. With regard to security, there needs to be clear, humane and publicly understood policies.

Finally is the international dimension. Indonesia has experienced a series of events in the internationalization of Papua. Thus, it needs a strategic diplomatic effort to handle the issue with care.

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Footnote: This opinion article has been displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Tuesday, May 21 2013; and in Paper Edition, it is printed at Page 5. For original as well as full article, it is available also at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/05/21/in-search-a-comprehensive-solution-papua.html [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 23 May 2013].

The writer is a researcher at the department of politics and international relations, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.

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