Living Without A State

Nov 30, 2012

People in rural Papua are more interested in basic services than grand political struggles.

Regardless of the reasons, the takeover resulted in the breakdown of the established system. As in the broader failures found in the creation of new districts across Papua, there was no period of transition and no handover. After the takeover, these systems were no longer managed locally, with new government administrators based in district capitals remotely running systems in places they’d never visited, with employees they’d never met. The churches played no post-2002 managerial or oversight role, instead concentrating on ecclesiastical matters. The system was further shaken by the 2001 riots in Wamena, when dozens of Indonesian migrants were killed by Papuan rioters. These killings created a reverse migration as fearful migrants – many of them teachers and health care workers – left to the cities.

The handover of the systems from Jayawijaya to the new district of Yahukimo in 2002 was the coup de grâce. Schools and clinics emptied of remaining teachers, health cadres, and administrators (the reasons why are elaborated upon below). In Yahukimo, with the exception of Dekai, the visible manifestations of a functioning government disappeared. This collapse of the education system has led to illiteracy rates that are much worse than the provincial average: anecdotal evidence puts the illiteracy rate in Lolat at upwards of 80 per cent.

As for health, immunisation programs do not exist in remote areas: the cold chain for vaccinations broke down in 2002 and no immunisations have been provided by the district government outside of intermittent offerings in Dekai in the last ten years. TB and HIV rates in Lolat are unknown, but the number of young men, women, and children dying of unknown causes is out of proportion to the already abysmal provincial averages. It seems likely that men working in the cities as part of the construction boom caused by the proliferation of new districts are contracting HIV and bringing it home with them. Just as HIV infection levels are unknown, so are condoms, which have never been seen in the area.

Men are also contracting malaria in lowland Dekai. When they return to Lolat, which has no mosquitoes and thus no knowledge of malaria, they die from it. Clinics are stocked with expired or unlabeled medicines, and health knowledge is low.

Problems of governance

Problems in education and health cannot be disentangled from one another: neither can they be removed from problems in governance. In Yahukimo the actual word for governance in Indonesian (pemerintahan) requires explanation. Government in Yahukimo, where it exists, is solely the realm of the Yali tribe’s clan and extended family networks and their traditions. This is a complicated system. In the Lolat area, the Yali tribe is sub-divided into 11 clans (suku): Buesuk, Hwise Oholuk, Kangkin, Wom ingkik, Sukulik dindok, Sabumbo, Ngasim, Nguruni, Sahaikani, Sirik amboloak, and Suamalik. These 11 clans are further sub-divided into a minimum of 41 extended families (marga).

The clans often go to war with one another, and even the extended families within clans operate in contention with one another. These groups are all led by men, and the strongest among them serve as church leaders, village leaders, and so on. They tend to assert their authority among their own followers by coercion and patronage. In such traditional patronage systems, modern notions of corruption lose their stigma: corrupt practices allow for goods to enter the patronage system, where it disseminates through the family and clan.

Special Autonomy (known in Papua by its Indonesian abbreviation, Otsus) was introduced in 2001 with the intention of relieving pressures for independence, alleviating Papua’s underdevelopment and improving service delivery. The policy has also led to a dramatic increase in government funds available for development purposes. However, an overstaffed and underperforming provincial bureaucracy absorbs the majority of Otsus funds. The primary expenditure of such funds in rural and remote areas goes toward the visible manifestations of service: building health clinics and schools.

However, the essential problem of health and education services in the highlands is not lack of physical structures, but poor management of human resources in these areas. New buildings remain empty, and although civil servants are theoretically assigned to work in these areas, the vast majority of them are not present in their duty stations. This is the norm across the highlands.

The reasons for absenteeism are manifold and vary by area, but some generalisations can be made. First, civil servants are often assigned outside their areas of origin or residence, and so are extremely resistant to being separated from their families. Locals often look down on them because their tribal or clan affiliations differ from their areas of assignation. Second, civil servant absenteeism does not result in sanctions. Third, these civil servants are not paid on-site, nor are they provided with transportation costs reflective of the cost of transport in their assigned areas. Fourth, their salaries are not adequate, often because a portion is siphoned off by the administration before they are paid (this varies by areas: in some areas, this does not occur, whilst in others, the majority of one’s wages is mislaid). Fifth, necessary support structures are not in place: a teacher who wants to teach may find herself alone in a school, with no administrator, no other teachers, and no materials. A teacher assigned to a remote area might not want to relocate her family because there is no available health care; a health care worker may not want to relocate because, chances are, there will be no functioning school.

Developing the villages?

One example of how special autonomy programs run into trouble on the ground in places like Yahukimo is provided by the so-called Kampung Development Strategy Plan or RESPEK (Rencana Strategi Pembangunan Kampung) program. Created in 2007 by the then-Papua provincial governor, Barnabus Suebu, RESPEK is a recurring community development block grant allocation for every village in the province, funded by Otsus disbursements that are in turn funded by the returns from Papua’s natural resource wealth. Under the scheme, every village in Papua gets a block grant of Rp. 100 million (about $A10,000). Of this, 15 per cent is intended to be for projects that directly benefit women.