Common Papuans ask their elected leaders: Where has all the money gone?

Despite Jakarta having disbursed the special autonomy funds annually to the Papua province over the last two decades, there has been relatively little difference made to the lives of ordinary people.
Despite Jakarta having disbursed the special autonomy funds annually to the Papua province over the last two decades, there has been relatively little difference made to the lives of ordinary people.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Papuan governor Lukas Enembe is in the hot seat after the recent riots in the restive West Papua region, with Papuans alleging corruption and demanding accountability for the trillions of rupiah they say have not been spent wisely.

Their concerns follow the latest report by Indonesia's audit agency (BPK) which revealed a long list of irregularities in the province's 2017 annual spending.

Among the highlights was the money spent on a project labelled as "fish pond" in 2017.

The cost of the project, which provided no further description, reached a staggering 1 trillion rupiah (S$98 million), with another 600 billion rupiah claimed as travelling costs for the Papua province's officials.

To provide locals with a social safety net, the province also made cash transfers to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that were six times more than that given to poor residents in 2017.

While a separatist movement has festered in the resource-rich region since the 1960s, the riots that erupted in August were sparked by claims that Papuan students in Surabaya were abused by military officers and subjected to racial abuse.

However, observers said endemic poverty at the grassroots level had in fact fuelled the seeds of instability in the West Papua region, which consists of Papua and West Papua provinces.

The Papua province raised about 1.2 trillion rupiah in revenue in 2017.

It also received about 11.9 trillion rupiah that year from the Indonesian state coffers.

 
 
 

The sum included Dana Otsus monies, where Jakarta disburses additional funds for provinces with a special autonomy status.

Provinces in Indonesia with a special autonomy status, like Papua and West Papua, are given more leeway to decide on projects and spending in a wide range sectors, such as healthcare and education.

It was a form of compromise introduced by Jakarta following attempts by locals in the provinces to separate from Indonesia.

Aceh is another province with a special autonomy status.

Observers said despite Jakarta having disbursed the special autonomy funds annually to the Papua province over the last two decades, there has been relatively little difference made to the lives of ordinary people.

Instead, there are allegations of rampant misuse of the funds. The situation is mirrored in the West Papua province.

"The use of the special autonomy fund has not been proper and there has been no accountability. It is a huge amount of money, and it does not reach the grassroots," Mr Frans Kareth, a 39-year-old Papuan merchant, told The Straits Times.

Another Papua resident Samuel Tabuni, 31, said that ring-fencing regulations are needed to make sure spending is properly targeted, with supervision by various parties.

While the situation in the West Papua region is returning to normal after the violent street rallies last month that resulted in the deaths of four civilians and a military officer, demands for accountability over the spending of government funds are growing louder.

Mr Ferdy Hasiman, a noted Papua observerwho had authored a book about the gold mining industry in the region and influential people in Papua, shared Papuans' concerns over the funds Jakarta disbursed.

"The funds transferred from Jakarta to Papua have mostly enriched the elite Papuan leaders, and only a minority of the funds really go to the grassroots," Mr Ferdy told The Straits Times.

According to Oxfam, 38 per cent of the region's population of more than 8 million live on less than US$1.90 ($2.62) a day.

Mr Ferdy noted that infrastructure projects, such as recently-built toll-roads in Papua, were not done by the local administration, but by Jakarta as a form of additional assistance.

Most of the region is underdeveloped and lacking in infrastructure, he said.

"Grassroots with empty stomach are easily provoked. Waves of anger that we witnessed there might have been driven by poverty," Mr Ferdy added.

He was critical of the fish ponds project, and the lack of details as to whether they were decorative ponds or fish farms, and the number of people who benefited from the funds disbursed for the project.

"If that amount of money were used to build pig farms, it would be enough to have 50,000 farms for residents in areas such as Nduga, Deiyai, Tolikara, Puncak Jaya where the poverty level is among the highest," Mr Ferdy said, stressing that pig farms would be a more lucrative business in Papua.

Defence analyst Dr Connie Rahakundini Bakrie said Jakarta has often been blamed for Papua's problems, when in fact the source is the elected Papuan leaders who ignore their own constituents.

The Papua governor and his personal assistant Elpius Hugi did not take calls by The Straits Times on Friday.

Queries sent to their mobile phones via text messages were also not answered.