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Indonesia’s big development push in Papua: Q & A with official observing the program [FULL TRANSCRIPT]

A part of the Trans Papua highway that snakes across Indonesia's easternmost provinces Papua and West Papua. Photo courtesy of Public Works and Housing Ministry.

During the transition period leading up to Jokowi’s inauguration, a working group called Pokja Papua was created to guide his promises on development in the two provinces. The organization is headed by Judith J. Dipodiputro who has gained decade-long experience within state institutions, private sector and civil organizations.

A specialist in public relations, Judith topped in 2012 her five-year career at the Indonesian arm of oil and gas giant Total as the vice president of corporate communications and public affairs. She also spent years within government offices, including as part of the public relations division at the then Ministry of Environment (1993-96) and as an expert staff to the Kutai Kartanegara district administration in East Kalimantan (2001-07).

Before Pokja Papua, which became an independent NGO when Jokowi’s transition team was dissolved, she had held influential roles at organizations, such as the Javan Gibbon Foundation in 2012-2016, and local economy empowerment group Rumah-Indonesia Foundation (1998).

Mongabay recently met with Dipodiputro to talk about progress of the president’s development program, subsequent environmental impacts and the government’s solutions for the challenges in Papua and West Papua.

What follows is the full transcript, lightly edited for clarity. For the interview highlights, click here.

Pokja Papua was initially created by President Joko Widodo’s transition team. Why did you agree to head this team when Pak Jokowi appointed you?

I was not appointed by Pak Jokowi, but by the transition office. So this is an organization that at the time actually we were a team established within the transition office. At the time, our duty was to meet the promises [made] by Bapak Jokowi during his campaign. But after he was inaugurated, the transition office was dissolved, then we continued to be, we were asked by the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises to continue [working on] promises that hadn’t been [fulfilled], and most specifically for Papua, starting by the Mama-mama Market. But it was not about meeting promises of infrastructure; our duty is more on ensuring how the local communities and tribes could be chaperoned in order to be included in the development… [D]evelopment is done not only in Papua, but all over Indonesia. Development is done in different areas, specifically in remote, in border areas, which are usually the poorest. And the issue was that development was done, roads were built, bridges were built, but the economic benefit was not immediately felt by the poorest of the poor. So really, our duty was to chaperone and help them be included in this development that is happening.

Why did you agree to that?

Actually it [takes] quite deep commitment. Not only from me, but from everyone who has been involved from the beginning to try to establish Bapak Jokowi to become president. One of the discussions we had, because I was involved very actively in being one of his volunteers, at the time we had a discussion and I said to him, ‘If we had [the] opportunity, and really God gives us the way on really winning and achieving what we hoped to do, which is able to put as president someone who is proven clean, honest, competent, loves the people, and also supports [the] unity of Indonesia, then please let’s remember that when we promise welfare for the people it should mean 253 million people, not minus one, and especially really not leaving behind approximately 5 million of our brothers and sisters, citizens of Indonesia, who opted to live a very traditional life, almost living in a different civilization than well certain parts of Indonesia.’ So it was really a deep commitment that we don’t leave anyone behind and actually we do the catching up [for] those who have been left behind.

Is that also the reason why Papua is viewed as a priority for infrastructure development?

Papua is not the only priority for infrastructure development, but … all border regions, all left-behind areas are today priorities. Papua is one of them. Pak Jokowi doesn’t only go to Papua, he goes to all the other regions simultaneously.

And why is Papua a priority for infrastructure development?

Because in reality, infrastructure is needed for Papua. You cannot do like chicken and egg, which starts first. You cannot wait for the community to develop and then we build the infrastructure. We have to really trigger, be a catalyst, that is why infrastructure should become a catalyst. We know that today, and for many, many years, it has been a challenge to bring out products from one village to the outside. People will say, oh yeah, it’s only like 100 kilometers, but if it’s facilitated it will be [a real] motivator, and the community needs to see this, especially in Papua. The local tribes believe and they did work very hard on electing Pak Jokowi as president, meaning that they elected a leader that they believe will take care of them. So I think it is just fair that now they say, ‘Pak Jokowi, we want to see where you’re building, where you’re really showing, proving to us.’ And if you see, infrastructure that’s being built in Papua is not only about roads and bridges, it’s also about revamping, finishing infrastructure. Part of the electricity is already there, then finish, improve the quality. Health infrastructure, education infrastructure, they’re also being completed or improved, or even adapted. Making it more adaptable for the people.

[For] example, because of the [low] density of the population, sometimes not all villages have [a] junior high school; [most] or all have primary schools, that is [the same as] all over Indonesia. But not all have junior high schools, and because of that, children have to travel long distance to go to school … you have to go through river, not only crossing … a bridge, but by boat. So one of the things we’re doing and this is the role, the coordination integration, you have this Rumah Kreatif BUMN. It is pushing the economic development where, through technology, it is assisting them to market, to communicate first and then market outside of the villages in a simpler, less burdening way. Perusahaan Perdagangan Indonesia is asked to come to the villages and pick up coffee, chocolate, whatever. Also including [private distributor and retailer] Sarinah for finished product. Rumah Kreatif BUMN is in cooperation with a program called Tong Maju, Kita Orang Maju. And … in cooperation with Ministry of Education, in cooperation with Ministry of Telecommunications, we are facilitating education. When we cannot, because of still lack of teachers… we want to bring quality of education, we want to… because it’s like this. When you want to give equality, it means you give the same thing. That is the concept of nawacita [the Widodo administration’s nine-point priority agenda]. It’s [not] only, OK, everybody has access to schools, and that’s it. Equality means access to the same quality. So how to access quality [in] very, very remote areas in Indonesia, it’s through technology. And therefore, we are creating Sister Schools with quality schools in other places in Indonesia with remote areas.

Another thing is, health infrastructure. OK, you may have clinics in very remote areas. But sometimes the challenge is to have doctors who have all the necessary expertise. Hospitals may have 100, 200 doctors, but in clinics you only have one or two doctors. So how to access this service? That’s for the more complicated, for the less complicated, education about AIDS, about mother-child health. The challenge is … the cost; like sometimes, for example in South Sorong, the cost to rent a car could be between 3-5 million [rupiah]. In Pegunungan Bintang, from one subdistrict to another, could be 30 million. So no wonder it’s very difficult for the government to deliver its service of simply educating [about] mother and child healthcare. So how to access on a daily basis, or at least on a weekly basis, if not with technology [from state-owned telecoms provider] Telkom. Video conference — they can ask questions and get explanations at all times. Imagine if there’s an emergency, we are creating this communication bridge through technology on assisting. But of course on the more complex medical services, we need regulations, laws, but on the education part, [there is education] so you won’t have the blind leading the blind. You can’t just send them brochures and expect them to understand. That’s technology and that is infrastructure.

So far into Jokowi’s presidency, how has the infrastructure development been going? What has been achieved? What happens next year, when campaigning for the 2019 presidential election starts, and the year after, when we may have a new president? What has not yet been achieved?

Everything, all the data is online. You can go KSP, Kantor Staff President, they have a very good website with very concise, compiled information about what development has been done in all the regions of Indonesia, including Papua and West Papua.

I think now is not the time to ask about what has not been achieved. That question should be asked at the end of his term, but not now, because things are in development. And if you compare to the rule of thumb of when there’s a change of regime to a new regime, usually you have this instability, you [face] these challenges for 10-15 years, but look within the two years, three years, the things that have been able to be achieved is as if there was no change in regime, I mean, in the sense that the current team has been able to stabilize itself very, very fast and [be] very focused. And you can see from the public statements of the president. [A]nd he has a very professional team. [W]hat is professional? [Y]ou are hired for five years, from day one to the last day of his presidency. So you just work. You don’t have to be involved in politics, it’s not their job. The Ministry of Health is to take care of and manage health, not to take care of other things. The Ministry of Education is to take care of education, not about politics. So from what I see, everybody is very focused, because otherwise, you would not be able to achieve what has been achieved in three years, a very speedy catching up. I have seen it with my own eyes, because, one thing — and I’m sure this is attitude of private sector professionals, and hands-on professionals [in] governance — people who are hands-on, they want to see, check by themselves. It’s not really about blusukan [a site inspection, usually for publicity purposes], no it’s not, [or] blindly following Jokowi’s footsteps. If you see, many people in his cabinet, that has been the style of working.

We took a different approach on development here. Community empowerment always has a challenge in Indonesia. Many community empowerment programs start great, they build, build, and build, go up, but then seven, eight years later, they go down. And even sometimes, like in two, three years. Why? From observations, it’s because they are not creating real economies. And how to create real economies is when they are working on commodities that are part of the need of the economy in the area, but also nationwide.

Sometimes people do the easy way, but this is not Jokowi’s way. Pak Jokowi goes to the extreme of doing it as well as we can. For example, there’s a fishermen’s village, so let’s teach them to make dry fish; before we do that, go to the supermarkets, all possible markets, all shops, how many bags of dry fish do you have there? If you don’t have more than 100, then forget it. It means [there’s] not [a] real need. And then you take a village of 200 families all making dry fish in a month, how many thousands of bags will they produce? And then they cannot sell. So we take real commodities. That is why we took coffee. We checked with the Ministry of Trade, with whom we’re also working together. There’s a very big demand for Indonesian coffee that has not been met. It’s not taking over someone’s coffee market, no. There’s a big demand that’s not been met. OK, that is real market that’s been met in Indonesia as well as overseas. Coffee is the commodity that we can access. So we talked to the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry that [is] in the marketing business. We tell them we need this much. But the challenge is the communities are now only picking from the forests, and here you [have] a hundred tons of need — again chicken and egg, which comes first? We don’t choose the egg or the chicken, we go for both. Look for the market; but we make interim programs, bridging programs which motivate and create confidence for the communities that they can do it. And also, confidence that this is not going to be a program that starts excitedly and then dies. So to motivate them, no matter how much coffee they’re going to produce, [it’s] being taken by Perusahaan Pedagang Indonesia. We work with coffee shops like Anomali, Cazwell, Tanamera, Javanero. Real professionals, and they have real outlets all over Indonesia. If our communities are producing coffees, can you please buy? PPI is making sure that the coffees are being sold in every city. But have the patience, be part of the program. If you need 500kgs of coffee in a month, but we’re only able to produce 50kg, please just take it. And sure enough, it’s working. Starts at 50, and then next time you have 60kg, but at least they [local communities] trust, because you need to establish the ecosystem. Sometimes the tendency is to work on puzzle pieces here and there but never really putting them on one table and making it into the big picture. This is what we do, we establish the ecosystem.

We also chaperone the young people to create their enterprises and they can have transportation to move around districts. So they don’t need huge trucks, they just can have Hilux [a model of Toyota pickup truck], they can transport passengers and goods. And that won’t be expensive, because you don’t have to wait for tons and tons and tons of coffee to be ready to be transported by trucks. And we push them to create enterprises.

Another synergy that’s being done is Himpunan Bank Bank Negara to provide credit facility. So we link and match everybody. Pokja Papua’s job is to link and match, and including when building infrastructure. Because mostly infrastructure in remote areas is very difficult for infrastructure, it’s done by the State-Owned Enterprise Ministry; we talk to the management, we say, ‘The procurement of sand or gravel … that’s something the local tribes can do. We just need to chaperone them.’ and with the assistance of different state-owned enterprises that are building, you work with them, and then train them.

Also, we say when it’s a factory, the paths that don’t need heavy duty are not going to be crossed by trucks, but only by humans, for walking — can we do it with locally made bricks, why not? Also the fence, if the fence can be made by wood, why not wood that’s been carved by locals? So everybody feels that they participate in the construction.

Poor planning typically causes conflict between infrastructure development and environmental protection. How do you ensure that this is not the case in Papua?

I’m not involved in the infrastructure, so I think that would be a question for the Public Works and Housing Ministry.

Papua presents its own challenges, such as geography, socio-cultural conflicts, and a separatist movement. How do you see the government resolving these challenges while ensuring development continues?

I think it’s not only in Papua. As I said, the paradigm of this cabinet is very different because of the generations who are in the cabinet today with very strong background and most of them come not from government background — most of our ministers are really professionals and from private sector. So this mix is enabling really to have a complete picture. That’s my observation. They have a complete picture, really viewing all the problems from all the different angles. And this is allowing them to really integrate all the challenges into finding the solutions. I saw that Bapak Basuki [Hadimuljono, the minister of public works and housing] and his team are very hands-on. One time there was a question from a village about the housing, so I communicated that to Bapak Basuki. And a few days later, he contacted me saying that he’s in Papua and asked me about the details of the question. And I was so surprised. And I’m sure it’s not only for Papua. Another time I met him at an airport and told him about some issues, and after we checked in separately, not long afterward he texted me a list of officials and their contacts to help resolve the issues. He’s very hands-on. And if they’re hands-on with complaints, I’m sure they’re very hands-on with [anticipating issues]. Personally I’ve been involved as an observer in environmental issues, back since the ’80s, so for me, definitely environment is a very, very, very important issue for us. But we also have to understand that we need [to] develop Indonesia fairly to every Indonesian. I don’t think and I would not want my government to be saying, OK, because you are in remote areas, and your village has less than 30 families, and this is the case in Papua, therefore we cannot think about your rights to access to transportation, for example. Now we cannot do that. But what I’m seeing is a very big effort in accessing the right solution and you can also see from the structure of the team overall. I recall, back when I was still in the energy industry, many times we had meetings where they will be giving the energy mix pie, how much coal we’re using, how much oil and gas, and how much renewable energy, and then they had this roadmap at the time, renewable energy is this big. I’m not an energy engineer, even to me, I said ‘They have this big chunk in the pie of renewable energy, but they didn’t even have a directorate general of [renewable] energy.’ And so I asked … them, ‘Don’t you think we should have a big, big team of renewable energy because you have this big chunk,’ while for coal, oil and gas we already had … BP Migas, now called SKK Migas. But for renewable energy … now we have it, and not only directorate general — all the equipment and institutions are completed. So I think there’s a strong intention to balance it out. Intention to balance is there. Intention to meet SDGs is there.

In the Papua province spatial plan for 2013-2033, there’s a vision to keep 83 percent of the province as ‘undisturbed natural habitat.’ The Indonesian government also has a pledge to cut 29 percent of carbon emission by 2030 in NDC under the Paris agreement. How do these commitments affect development in Papua?

I think there’s something that’s been unfair or the way of seeing, because today, the language that’s being used is that since Papua is building bridges and roads, infrastructure in general, then it’s as if it’s going to massively open forest. I don’t think so. If you compare the percentage that’s being used for infrastructure, compared to the size of the island, even compared to existing opened areas, it’s not that big. I think this is where between the way things are presented and the reality, I think people should do the math. Please do the math. Please do the math. Sometimes it’s like this [is] Papua, and the road [is] just one of these lines, and [it’s a] certain percentage. Come on.

So you’re confident that these green commitments by the Papuan and Indonesian government will still be upheld when developing infrastructure in Papua?

Yes. Look, West Papua back in October 2015 declared itself as a conservation province. My understanding from discussions with several people, the province of Papua is also going to declare or is in the process of studying the possibility of declaring itself, if I’m not mistaken, as Green Economy Province. And I see that they are declaring that not only for the sake of declaring, they’re working on it. So look at how they are resolving but also monitoring not only the local government or the national government, but also the communities and the NGOs, whether they are local, national or even foreign; monitoring and following up the incident that happened in Raja Ampat, for example. You have everybody there. I think everybody is very concerned, not only for Papua, but all over. Now, as these two provinces are on this path, I’m sure the other provinces are there.

You mentioned NGOs monitoring Papua. How has their feedback been as you are in talks with them as well?

I think there is a challenge in our society all over Indonesia. Because in the past, sometimes I think, there were promises and plans made, but not delivered. So the society is used to making excuses and criticizing, and this is old habit. That they just repeat when actually the issue is not there. One time I was in a conversation with a friend that I never met actually, but later on we met. We were talking about coffee because we were starting a coffee project about one and half years ago. Of course there are glitches, we’re starting something, you always have challenges. At the time, a minister was supposed to go but got delayed for two or three weeks. And this friend said, ‘That is why we need independency.’ And I said, ‘What does a delay of three weeks have to do with anything?’ Come on, stop using that language. Don’t ever talk to me about that. Because I know how my team is working really hard in order to be independent and we are independent NGO. Imagine those who have the job to do it. I saw how Pak Jokowi every three month goes to not only Papua, but also NTT [East Nusa Tenggara], NTB [West Nusa Tenggara], Maluku, checking in, going around Indonesia non-stop. That’s stressing for the staff, so they have to deliver, deliver, deliver. So it’s just the habit of saying the same words. And that is why whenever someone comes to me making judgements, I say, ‘Have you seen what’s happening now?’ There were foreign journalists who asked about separatists. I say, ‘Hey, before you ask me those questions, come over and see for yourself.’ And talk to the right people. Don’t talk to people who are used to talk about issues and they have made it their jobs for 15-20 years of advocating something and they need to keep their job. I think the challenge for certain NGOs is how to develop their services and products. Actualization of the organization. They need to actualize, look with real eyes. Maybe in the past years, you were advocating, but maybe now look. Look at what’s happening, and be honest. And of course some NGOs because they started as being certain advocates, they will see challenge, but that’s the whole idea of reactualizing your organization, and it’s a matter of reactualizing the way of looking at things.

Because Papua is developing, and changing. And there’s change happening…

Yes, yes, yes. Purchase power has increased.

And some of the problems are being resolved…

Most, and whenever there is a problem, I’ve seen we’re all working together trying to find solutions. Everybody is coming down and looking, not only in Papua, but all over. I remember one time, talking about real commodity, one that we’ve worked on is biofoam from waste of sago, pineapple, etc. And we know that the world is going for zero use of Styrofoam. Many countries have banned and that is opportunity. Indonesia also, bit by bit, is changing so this is a big opportunity. So we started and there was a machine already created. And the machine costs about 15 million rupiah. This is a machine that’s not affordable, because a container would only cost about 200 rupiah; that’s too much. So I talked to State-Owned Enterprise Ministry, can you please find a machine that’s cheaper, better quality; then came up this prototype with a price that’s about 7.5 million. That was last year when Pak Jokowi came to markets. And then we had this exhibition of this machinery, and I remember Minister of SOE came, and she has a very strong business and finance background, and said, ‘Talk to this official and ask them to make one that’s lower than 5 million.’

See, from 15 to 7.5 million was not enough, go lower. Find the technology, find the way that it has to go lower.

Is the infrastructure development in Papua going for sustainable development? If yes, is it getting enough funding? Is it getting political support?

I’m not involved in the financing, you have to ask the Public Works and Housing Ministry.

But if you ask me is there political support? Yes, there is political support. Look at Conservation Province, look at the efforts toward Green Economy Province. Look at how the Ministry of Environment and Forestry is so strongly supervising, synergizing with other ministries. [Minister] Siti is very hands-on with efforts. But I think the challenge is that often the challenge for us environmentalists is that we are looking at things only from our perspective, not from the complete perspective, that’s the challenge. Look at things from the complete perspective. Because we have to be realistic that the environment doesn’t stand alone. It’s a complete picture.

How do you look at environmental issues in Papua in a complete picture?

Listen and communicate. I’m this person who always would like to see the complete picture before making judgment. So among environmental activists — and I’m also involved in several environmental NGOs on a personal capacity — a lot of friends say we disagree with palm oil, OK, talk to them … ask them what the problem is, why can’t they meet what we’re asking them, and how can we find a way of helping them instead of only protesting, criticizing? Why don’t we do the real thing? Talk to them. I’m sure they want to do the right thing because we’re all now in the same generations who are very concerned. I disagree if they say, ‘OK, because I became an environmental activist, [I can] judge my schoolmate who’s now working [at] a pulp and paper company doesn’t care.’ Come on. We grew up together, we know each other. I’m sure we all have the same concerns. So we need to talk. We need to sit down and say, OK, if I can explain to you this — sometimes they just don’t know how to. And I’ve seen myself companies are moving toward environment. When we were young, environment was so simple: don’t do this and don’t do that. But as we grew up, we have to say, ‘OK, when we tell you not to do this, but you now have a challenge, then how to solve it?’ How to integrate solutions?

It’s actually like this. I think every Indonesian has the same equal rights on everything all over Indonesia. So for Indonesians who chose to live in West Papua and Papua, whether they’re originally local from there or migrants, they have the same rights as, for example, people in Jakarta. They have exactly the same rights. If you know, on Sunday, people go to the stadium to sell their tomatoes and chili, they wait for joggers to buy them, and they just can get them from their tiny village or on their motorcycle to sell that, just for fun, I think the people from Papua in the most remote villages, no matter which village even if in the most remote, they have the same right to do that. And the country has the obligation to meet that. It’s not because they chose to live in a very, very remote village in Papua that they don’t have the rights, if they want to have roads, if they need to have bridges. It doesn’t mean that because they live in the most remote village in Papua, therefore it’s OK to endanger their lives and their children’s lives while going to the school having to cross the bridge. And if it takes opening a little bit of the forest to construct that bridge and to [build] that road, then [so] be it. Why does Papua have to pay? It becomes unfair like this … to say that they’re not allowed to open their forest so that, you know, other areas are allowed. And as I said, please calculate properly how much the infrastructure development being built today is taking out of the forest. I don’t think it’s as dramatic as people want to make everybody believe. [W]e need to communicate in order to learn and to update ourselves about the most actual best practices, yes, but don’t judge that the government or the individual building Papua don’t have the same concerns [for environmental protection]. They also have children, they also have grandchildren, they’re also leaving their legacy to their kids. I’m sure they care, especially that now we are living in climate change-era impact.

How do you see the development of Papua taking place if we have a new president in the next couple of years?

I don’t like to talk about politics. I’m just talking about logic. The government of Indonesia has been here for 72 years. And I’m sure, as long as Indonesia exists, it will be there. Government is a system that works. We have a very strong bureaucracy. Sometimes very [elaborate], but we have a running bureaucracy. We have seen changes in presidency in the last 20 years, and it continues on for the better. Pak [B.J.] Habbie was betterment of Pak Soeharto, Pak Gus Dur [Abdurrahman Wahid] was betterment of Pak Habibie’s performance, everybody learns. Every time we have a new leader, our newest leaders are learning from past mistakes but also from past lessons; they’re observing that. I’m sure if it’s still going to be Pak Jokowi, he will also learn from his past term. So I’m not worried about that because the commitment, I think, in 2014, we had a very big wake-up call that we need to find honest, clean, caring, and competent leader, that’s the answer. So we just need to continue finding these characteristics. And we’re getting better. The next generation is very demanding.

For the interview highlights, click here.

Banner image: A part of the Trans Papua highway project that snakes across Indonesia’s easternmost provinces Papua and West Papua. Photo courtesy of Ministry of Public Works and Housing.

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