Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Background on Bas, 2nd-term Papuan Governor

From Tri Agus Siswowiharjo at ParasIndonesia

Barnabas Suebu, the man with a Mike Tyson-like figure was born 60 years ago in Ifale, a small island in Lake Sentani, Jayapura. Bas, as he is often called, started his political career early through the Indonesian National Youth Committee (KNPI) while finishing his Law degree at the University of Cendrawasih, Jayapura. With his popularity growing, and lobby skill improving, and was elected as Chair of the Provincial House of Representatives (DPRD). Aside from politics, the man was also known as a businessman. He once chaired the Papuan Chamber of Commerce (Kadin). In 1988, he was elected as governor of Papua (Irian Jaya) for the 1988 – 1993 rather peaceful term.

"I often visited villages throughout the province,” said Bas. His brush with death came when he visited Wamena. He was almost stabbed by a villager who claimed frustrated because of land problems. Later, after talking and discussing with the attacker, Bas asked the police to release the villager. He gave his attacker money and to this day they have remained friends.

From the five candidates, Bas seems to be the most experienced and knowledgeable in handling the mane problems of Papua. In a forum with the university students of Papua in Biak, Bas joked that there are three classes of autonomy community. “I got invited to talk here and there about autonomy, so people classify me as member of autonomy experts,” said Bas. Then, he continued, there are the governors and regents. “They are the ones enjoying the autonomy,” he said. Finally, there are the people of Papua. Poor and hungry. “They are classified as victims of autonomy,” he concluded.

The bitter humor in somehow summaries the current condition of Papua nowadays. The Indonesian government pours in trillions of rupiah each year as its autonomy allocated fund according to the Special Autonomy Regulation No. 21/2001. However, by looking at the Papuan condition, there seems little evidence that the money went beyond the bureaucracy. Ironically, poverty, and even famine, like in the case of the Yahukimo people, is the fact of life. These are hungry people living on a rich land.

Aside from poverty and famine, Papua is a land of conflict. Since the fall of the Soeharto regime, the demand for “M” (which stands for merdeka or independence) has grown in Papua. And the central government has not been keeping quiet. Several methods have been implemented in the effort to reduce the independence sentiment. President Habibie was helped by Bas Suebu who organized a meeting of 100 Papuan leaders with the president in his palace. In that meeting, the majority of the leaders wanted the word “M”, while the president, still fresh from the Timor referendum, asked them to think things over. Eventually, the delegations agreed to compromise and led to the birth of the Special Autonomy Regulation in 2001.

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