On 15 July 2021, the Indonesian parliament ratified a revised version of the special autonomy law for the provinces Papua and Papua Barat. The lawmakers revised 20 articles from the pre-existing law No 21/2001 on Special Autonomy for the Papua Province. The controversial law should booster development in Indonesia’s under-developed easternmost provinces, particularly in the fields of healthcare and education.
Article 36 of the revised law stipulates that 35% of the special autonomy funds should be allocated for education, 25% for healthcare, 30% for infrastructure and 10% for the empowerment of indigenous communities. The former law regulated that the provincial government must allocate 30% of the special autonomy budget for education and 15% for healthcare. But are these measures adequate and sufficient to push education and healthcare in West Papua? What are the consequences of the law for healthcare and education facilities in West Papua?
Healthcare facilities in West Papua report a decrease in the health budget
Despite increasing special autonomy funds, hospitals and clinics in West Papua reportedly complain about insufficient funds. According to Papuan media outlet Jubi, the health budget of the public hospital in the Jayapura for patients with a Papua health card (Kartu Papua Sehat or KPS) will drastically decrease from 45 billion rupiahs (about € 278,000) in 2021 to only 5 billion rupiahs (about € 308,000) in 2022. The Papuan health cards were introduced as part of the special autonomy to provide basic health care to indigenous Papuans who do not have health insurance. The hospital will only receive 10 billion rupiahs (about € 616,000) health funds for 2022.
On 24 November 2021, the director of Jayapura public hospital, Dr Anton Mote, declared that the cuts in the hospital’s budget would inevitably impact the quality and availability of health services. He explained that the hospital would no longer be able to treat patients with a Papuan health card (https://jubi.co.id/anggaran-dikurangi-rsud-jayapura-kemungkinan-tak-lagi-layani-pasien-kps-pada-2022/).
The head of the Papua health department (Dinas Kesehatan Papua), Mr Robby Kayame, declared on 8 December 2021, that all costs for patients with the Papuan health card in the year 2022 will have to be covered by the regencies and municipalities. Kayame called upon the regional governments in both provinces to allocate funds for hospitals and other health facilities to the 2022 budget as the provincial government will be excluded from the process.
The availability and accessibility of medical facilities in non-urban areas across West Papua are poor. The quality and adequacy of healthcare services in West Papua –particularly in non-urban areas– also fail to meet international healthcare standards. Medical equipment is often outdated, and medication can only be accessed in urban areas. Doctors are rarely available in some regencies and serve only in hospitals in the largest towns and cities.
Last week, human rights defenders reported another case of poor health treatment from the town of Timika. Doctors had forgotten a cloth inside a woman’s abdomen during a Caesarean section in late November 2021. After three weeks, the indigenous woman returned to the hospital because her health condition significantly decreased. She eventually passed away in the hospital during the attempt to remove the cloth.
Of the 5.7 trillion rupiahs (about 350 million Euros) special autonomy funds for 2022, the provincial government will only manage 1.3 trillion. The central government will distribute the funds directly to the governments of regencies and municipalities. The shift of responsibilities results from the amendments to the special autonomy law.
Teachers in Jayapura demand salary
The shift of responsibilities from the provincial governments in West Papua to the central government in Jakarta will also have extensive consequences on the education sector. The Papuan governor, Lukas Enemebe, said during an interview on 20 November 2021 that the new special autonomy regulations will re-direct the executive power back to the central government.
Lukas Enembe, mentioned current scholarship programs for Papuan students studying outside of West Papua as an example. “The children with scholarships for the next year will all have to go home because there are no scholarship funds. This year, all of them will be dismissed or we will write to their parents to send them home”, said Enembe.
Despite the huge amounts of special autonomy funds flowing to West Papua every year, the education situation in both provinces has hardly improved. According to media outlet Jubi, about teachers launched a peaceful protest and demanded outstanding salaries for the first half of 2021 for more than 600 honorary school teachers across West Papua.
Joint research by UNICEF and Papuan universities between 2008 and 2010 found that 47% of teachers in West Papua were regularly absent, while the local education departments fail to establish an effective control mechanism and to ensure the prosperity of teachers in remote areas. The increase of special autonomy funds in the past years have not led to noticeable improvements in the education situation in West Papua, particularly in remote areas.
By 2020, 96% of the Indonesian population above the age of 15 years were literate. The situation in the Papua Province is much worse as only 77.9% of Papua’s population is literate (Indonesian Centre for Statistics). The situation is particularly concerning for people above 45 years of age living in rural areas, where only 59.1% of the residents can read. The vast majority of the population in these areas are indigenous Papuans. The figures thus highlight the government’s failures in the Papuan education system over the past 30 years.
A recent study in 78 primary schools in the Jayapura Regency found that 43% of the students in 3rd grade could not read. The Jayapura regency is one of the better-developed areas in West Papua as it is close to Jayapura, the largest town in the Papua Province, where the provincial government and its departments are based. It must be estimated that the illiteracy rate among primary school students in more remote areas, such as the hinterland and the central highlands, is even higher than in the Jayapura Regency.
Most Papuans represent the view that the Papuan special autonomy has failed. Many have little hope that the new special autonomy law will have a positive effect on the lives of indigenous Papuans. Jakarta’s inconsistent implementation of the special autonomy law has nourished aspirations for self-determination in the past years.
Particularly, the revision of articles related to the allocation of special autonomy funds and the formation of new autonomy regions had caused heated discussions and public outrage in West Papua. Jakarta had pushed through the amendments without consulting a large variety of stakeholders in the provinces. Various consultation meetings to determine the Papuan peoples’ thoughts about the prolongation of special autonomy were prevented by government institutions and third parties.
On 17 June 2021, The Papuan Peoples’ Assemblies (MRP) of the provinces Papua and Papua Barat challenged the legality of Jakarta’s unilateral effort to revise the Papuan Special Autonomy Law at the Constitutional Court in Jakarta. In early July, the Constitutional Court adjourned the trial indefinitely due to the growing number of Covid-19 infections in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the MRPs in the provinces Papua and Papua Barat have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Wali Nanggroe, a similar cultural institution in the special autonomy region Banda Aceh. Both institutions will join forces to push the central government to fully implement the special autonomy provisions in Aceh and West Papua.