Lawmakers announced in April that parliament would deliberate adding three provinces to the two in the territory. The announcement sparked protests from Papuans in several cities over what they see as Jakarta’s encroachment into the resource-rich region.
Governor Lukas Enembe of Papua province told Reuters there are not enough resources to run new provinces and that Papuans were not adequately consulted about the plan.
“There are so few of our people here to create new provinces,” he said, adding that new administrative blocks could lead to an influx of people from outside Papua.
Papua and West Papua make up the western half of New Guinea island, with a land area comparable to Sweden and a population of 5.4 million. The east of the island is the nation of Papua New Guinea.
The western part has seen an independence struggle since it was incorporated into Indonesia under a 1969 referendum. Critics say the central government has failed to sufficiently develop the region, which was split into two provinces in 2003 and granted special welfare funding.
Papua and West Papua provinces consistently rank among Indonesia’s lowest on economic indicators such as the human development index.
Made Supriatma, a security researcher at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, echoed Enembe’s concern, saying poor education means not enough qualified personnel to run new provinces.
Representatives of indigenous Papuans have opposed the plan to carve out new provinces, saying it would not help Papuans.
“This is a form of state violence that seeks to eradicate the lives of Papuans,” the representatives’ leader Timotius Murib told Reuters last month.
Valentinus Sudarjanto Sumito, a senior Indonesian home affairs ministry official, told Reuters on Saturday the new provinces were intended to spur development and give better access to public services and jobs to Papuans due to the region’s “difficult” geographical conditions.
He said the central government will give affirmative action and training to Papuans, adding that it had consulted on the plan with the indigenous representatives several times, including last week.
Chief security minister Mahfud MD has said 82% of Papuans want the administrative split, but this figure has been questioned by the indigenous representatives.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto in Jakarta; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and William Mallard)