22 Oct 2015

Jakarta takes hands-on approach to Papua development

11:29 am on 22 October 2015

The Indonesian government says it's taking a hands-on approach to fostering development among grassroots communities in Papua region.

The new Pharaa Market under construction in Sentani, Papua

The new Pharaa Market under construction in Sentani, Papua Photo: RNZI/Koroi Hawkins

The comment comes from the head of a government taskforce on development in Papua, which has departed from the approach of previous administrations by working on a bottom-up strategy of empowering indigenous communities.

Judith Dipodiputro is overseeing the construction of a major new market facility for Papuans to sell homegrown and fresh products in Sentani.

Ms Dipodiputro says President Joko Widodo and his government believe that you cannot manage a country as large and culturally diverse as Indonesia from a birds-eye view.

She says it has to be managed on the ground.

"Proof is for example if you see at this market, the need for not modernization but to help them integrate into modern market mechanism is there. And we are sure that a lot of people thought about it before, but maybe there was no one that was really posted, let's say, by the government system to be here on the ground."

Papuans remain largely under-represented in business activities in urban centres, but the government argues that projects like the Sentani market, Pasar Pharaa, are about converting the natural talents of Papuans into better economic and social gains.

Papuan women sell produce in an old market in Sentani

Papuan women sell produce in an old market in Sentani. Photo: RNZI/Koroi Hawkins

Judith Dipodiputro says the new market will be cleaner than what Papuans are used to, will offer opportunities for diversifying their products and will feature an education unit for children of Papuan Mamas who sell produce.

Ms Dipodiputro says the government is focusing on improving education and capacity building among Papuans because these offer the solution to poverty, which she identifies as the main problem in Papua, as in other parts of Indonesia.

Papuans can benefit from more competition

Ms Dipodiputro says the region's indigenous communities can also benefit from learning more about trade, rather than just bartering.

Many Papuans complain that Indonesia's transmigration programme over the years has left them as bystanders to economic activity while non-Papuans dominate.

But the Indonesian government representative on development in Papua says there is a need for Papuan communities to learn to be competitive.

"Some tribes are very competitive, are traders, since hundreds of years. Some tribes are not really traders, they are more - let's say - living on a day by day, so they don't really have his concept of competing in trade. But we have to work on creating a balance, of bringing them into a competitive level that is acceptable to them as well."