It’s been almost 10 years since the 2001 Law on Special Autonomy in Papua came into being. The law was introduced to solve the numerous problems, especially issues of social inequality, between Papua and other regions in Indonesia.
The Special Autonomy Law was the greatest delegation of power the Indonesian government would allow itself to give to the indigenous people of Papua.
As such, the law was expected to provide more opportunities to and expand the participation of the indigenous people of Papua in all areas of development. However, many Papuans believe autonomy has failed.
Why and how could this have happened?
To facilitate the process of special autonomy, the central government established the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) as a culturally representative institution of indigenous Papuans.
It came into being two years after special autonomy was enforced, through a December 2004 presidential decree.
The main functions and tasks of the MRP were to protect the rights of all Papuans, based on respect for tradition and culture; empower Papuan women; and strengthen the harmony of religious life in the region.
In keeping with the spirit of the Special Autonomy Law, the assembly consists of a mix of Papuans selected to represent indigenous men, women and the region’s various religious and ethnic groups.
There are currently 45 members in the MRP — 41 representatives plus four leaders. However, the assembly’s performance to date has been less than satisfactory.
In February 2008, Papuan protesters and college students gathered at the MRP office demanding that the ineffective body be disbanded.
Papua’s special autonomy came into force coupled with a large amount of central government funding.
This funding was expected to be used to help the region catch up with other areas in Indonesia in terms of development.
Government funding has ranged from Rp 2.4 trillion ($266 million) in 2004 to an estimated Rp 5.8 trillion in 2011.
The money was intended to finance various vulnerable sectors such as the economy, education and health care for the people of Papua.
However, in many ways these sectors have seen little improvement, while local officials have taken advantage of corruption opportunities presented by the inflow of government money.
Special Autonomy Fund money also appears to have gone astray.
Papua’s governor, Barnabas Suebu, wrote in his book “We Do the Planting, We Do the Watering, God Makes it Grow” that about 80 percent of the Special Autonomy Fund went to provincial and district government officials and was wasted rather than used to fund development in poor communities.
The process of awarding funds to Papua in the form of block grants has proven to be an inappropriate policy.
This is because the block grants are provided to the provincial government without clear tasks or functions. The money is then misspent and does not reach its intended target — the people in the villages.
Because of the misuse of the Special Autonomy Fund, living conditions for the people of Papua are deteriorating rapidly.
Despite the government budget allocation of Rp 22 trillion to the region of four million people, infrastructure remains underdeveloped. In contrast, West Java has a population of more than 40 million people and receives only Rp 10 trillion, but has much better infrastructure.
A thorough evaluation of the Special Autonomy Law should be conducted, and the Special Autonomy Fund audited.
These are the appropriate and necessary measures that need to be taken in order to keep special autonomy on the right track in the next few years and support its implementation.
In addition to auditing the Special Autonomy Fund, the central government also needs to establish an independent institution responsible for controlling and supervising the use of the fund.
It would be better if this institution was not bound by the governing bureaucracy.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made public calls for Papua’s special autonomy to be evaluated immediately, including an audit of the Special Autonomy Fund.
Areas that need to be carefully evaluated include budget management and supervision.
The evaluation and auditing of autonomy funds may just be the wisest step the government could take to support Papua’s Special Autonomy Law in the future.
The Papuan people are still waiting for the best way to improve their living conditions and welfare.
We remain hopeful.
Oktovianus Pogau is a member of the Papua Solidarity Society. He lives in Jakarta.