Papua development funds better managed by locals

Papua development funds better managed by locals
Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Opinion
Marcellus Rantetana

Through Law Number 21/2001, we, as a nation, have committed ourselves to giving a chance to Papuans to catch up with other regions in Indonesia, by awarding it special autonomy status (Otsus) and by providing it with a special allocation of funds for twenty years.

Since the enactment of this law in 2001, a large amount of funds has poured into Papua. It is estimated that close to Rp 20 trillion has flowed into the region every year for several years, and yet we continue to hear of negative feelings among Papuans in particular about the questionable benefits of the recent special autonomy status.

Some say Otsus has failed, although just how it has failed is quite often unclear. It seems some people are not yet convinced that the funds flowing into Papua through Otsus have been utilized for the benefit of the Papuan people. They expect more than what the government has done so far, at provincial, city and regency levels.

As such, until both local and national administrations are able to prove to the people that the money that has poured into the region has been used in the most effective and efficient way for the benefit of the Papuan people, it will be difficult to eliminate these negative reactions.

It is certainly true that Otsus has brought new buildings, commercial complexes, regencies, districts and hundreds of new villages (kampung). Numerous new regencies and hundreds of new districts and kampungs were established over the past few years to bring services closer to communities, but have these communities really seen improved services? Some of new district chiefs have until now operated from offices outside the new districts. So how could they possibly provide better services to the people as promised?

Vice Governor Alex Hesegemin in his closing remarks at a recent working meeting for the eight regencies around Jayawijaya, in Wamena on May 19, urged the regents to immediately move out of Wamena and reside in the capitals of their districts, regardless of local conditions.

Other issues regarding the new districts, concern how much funding would be needed to run these new government units, in terms of office buildings and operating expenses? It is really difficult to understand how an area with as few as 17,000 people was legally established as a regency. And how, for example, an area with less than 50,000 people has more than 100 districts with more than 500 kampungs.

Do these new regencies, districts and kampungs really benefit the people? The education sector has suffered most because of these new administrative divisions. Teachers were recruited to fill most of the new positions created by these new structures, which would certainly be more attractive for a number of reasons. This exacerbates an already very serious teacher deficit in more remote areas.

Despite the problems mentioned, Papuans in villages currently enjoy direct benefits from Otsus through Respek (strategic village development plan) programs put in place by the provincial government in 2007. Through such programs, every village, regardless of its development status, is given a block grant of Rp 100 million. The basic principles behind this massive program are equal rights to development and equal opportunities for every community to do something for themselves.

Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu refers to this scheme as a bicycle-riding approach. (If we never give someone an opportunity to ride a bicycle, they will never learn how to ride one.)

The funds are channeled directly into village accounts at local banks. Teams of three people comprising representatives of village administrations, as well as community and religious leaders, are established to manage the funds, but plans for their use are left entirely up to village communities.

Over the last two years, close to Rp 1 trillion has been channeled directly into the hands of Papuans in rural areas through this program. This is definitely a large sum of money. However, compared to the total amount of funds flowing into Papua every year since the provision of the OTSUS status, it is still far too small.

Until now, a number of government units and some donor agencies, still carry out rural development programs using their own programs, by recruiting their own facilitators and using their own disbursement schemes, leaving target communities sidelined. They seem to be hesitant to embrace the Respek scheme although it has been proven effective and efficient.

To ensure Otsus funds are used for the benefit of the people, stringent financial accountability needs to be put in place. At the same time, however, capacity building needs to be carried out since practically the whole area (but particularly the recently established local government units) lacks competent people to conduct proper public accounting practices. The accountability of local governments in utilizing taxpayers' money entrusted to them still needs improvement. Ratings on the financial reports of almost all regencies are still very low. Some reports were not readable at all, according to one auditor.

Hence, strong commitments from all parties involved (including the central government) are needed to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Otsus funding, considering (among other factors) the geographical difficulties the region faces.

The writer is the director of the Papua Knowledge Center, Jayapura.