Care needed to resolve Papua’s weak governance

Vidhyandika Perkasa , 

No significant progress has eventuated in Papua as far as sociocultural, political and economic dimensions are concerned.
Conventional issues persist: the weak implementation of special autonomy, which has failed to improve local socioeconomic conditions; the controversial debate and confusion in implementing the “legal status” of the new province of West Papua; unresolved and unaddressed human rights violations and discrimination among indigenous people; and the growing and uncontrolled demands for area expansions throughout the province.

National and political elites seem preoccupied with solving macro political and legal issues and so neglect the core problem: identifying why special autonomy (still seen as the most “promising” panacea for the complex Papua problems) has failed to improve Papuans’ wellbeing. There are various possible approaches to trying to detect why the ill-fated special autonomy has not performed as effectively as planned.

Weak governance is one significant factor in the poor implementation of special autonomy. Governance at nearly all levels in Papua is generally quite poor, even downright awful. With weak governance there is no clear popular representation in policy-making processes and no efficient, open and accountable government.

Cultural and traditional factors are unquestionably important contributors to weak governance. The magnitude of the influence of traditional culture and values on behavior is quite visible in Papua. Weak governance is about weak leadership. There are several kinds of traditional leadership in Papua: Big Man, Ondoafi (based on ascription), Kingdom and Mixed Leadership. Big Man leadership, for example, which is typical in the Highlands, stresses the leader’s capacity to “manipulate” his surroundings and natural resources for his own benefit. One informant argued this capacity for manipulation has negative connotations because the leader is not bound to follow any laws or regulations. Big Man leadership tends also to be authoritarian and autonomous, as the leader does not acknowledge division of labor among his constituents.

Under decentralization and special autonomy, tribal leaders are vying for positions in the modern bureaucracy. Ironically, the formally elected leaders are engaged in traditional politics. In most cases of tribal war, cycles of revenge and hatred are dragged into the politics of modern governance. The influence of this is evident in inefficient bureaucracy, corruption, nepotism and ineffective governance. Therefore, it is crucial to highlight the traditional patterns of behavior, patterns of exercising power and patterns of leadership that might manifest in the modern governance system.

Research by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in 2007, supported by the Australia-Indonesia Governance Research Partnership (AIGRP), discovered the significant factors that contribute to weak governance in Wamena include the influence of “primordialism”, ethnic exclusivism and a culture of framing political allegiances and patterns of conflict.

Those factors have impeded the establishment of good governance. To be more specific, the influence of ethnic and religious considerations in bureaucratic appointments and political representation is one expression of traditional values in local government.

It is also evident in elected leaders’ obligation to reward their supporters in order to maintain popular support. In many respects, this pattern of patronage is expected of traditional leaders, but it becomes problematic when the funds allocated to fulfill these obligations are taken from the local government budget or special autonomy funds.

Weak governance is not solely a matter of traditional patterns of behavior in the modern governance system but also results from a lack of human resources. The research found inadequate formal education and professional experience and training among government officials and political representatives, especially in policy making and program implementation. Bureaucratic and political processes do not support the selection and deployment of the most qualified people to senior positions. Appointments are often made for reasons of political, ethnic or religious affiliation rather than on merit, resulting in a lack of leadership skills in local government. In addition, the phenomenon of “the wrong man in the wrong position” or a mismatch of qualifications, experience and position is widespread.

Furthermore, very rapid social change since the first contact just half a century ago has led to what might be described as “culture shock”, “distortion” or “contamination”. Some of this transformation has manifested itself in the ways leadership has developed in the local government system, which has had access to greatly increased revenues through Special Autonomy.

This has led to some erosion of traditional values. For example, “deliberation” (musyawarah) is currently used to secure personal or group interests for economic objectives. In addition, senior government officials have had access to resources that have enabled more luxurious and hedonistic lifestyles, resulting in a change in the relationship between the government and the community.

Finally, the lack of synergy among local government, NGOs and the business community in supporting democracy and good governance also contributes to weak governance.

Given the complexity of the problems that contribute to weak governance in Papua, the policy recommendations are as follows.

First, there needs to be ongoing attention or research in trying to determine the root causes of weak governance in Papua, taking into account the complexity and magnitude of the cultural dimensions.

I object to the view that all traditional leadership values are “bad”. CSIS discovered positive local wisdom that could support good governance. These positive values need to be built upon in concrete policy interventions. In addition, there needs to be a mechanism to counter or overcome the negative effect of traditional leadership in the modern government system.

Second, there needs to be improvement in the recruitment and selection processes within the bureaucracy and the political parties, regulated through bylaws (Perda).

The aim of such regulations would be to improve the professional and educational standards of senior officials, members of the executive and political representatives.

The third recommendation is to have professional development programs for civil servants in local government.

Finally, a key factor in the development of democratic governance and good governance is a strong civil society.

The author is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He obtained his PhD in anthropology from Monash University, Australia. He can be contacted at vidhyandika*csis.or.id

Source: The Jakarta Post

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