Friday, February 23, 2007

Awakening "sleeping giant" of a prosperous Papua

The Papua provincial governnment will focus its development programs on rural areas where the largest number of poor live, the Governor Barnabas Suebu has announced. He said as 80 percent of Papuans live in remote villages in poor conditions, if not absolute poverty, his administration will provide each of the 2,700 villages in his province and 1,164 villages in West Papua province with Rp 100 million (about US$11,100). "This is not a gift from Santa Claus, it must be accounted for," he said.

The Papua administration currently oversees autonomy funds for both Papua and West Papua provinces.

Before receiving the funds, villages must specify their needs and outline planned development programs, as well as detailing plans for supervising the use of the money. Some of the main goals of the village development program are improving nutrition, education, health, local economies and infrastructure in the villages, as well as addressing issues such as gender equality, sustainable forest management and law and justice.

To finance the program, Suebu has shaken up the provincial budget. In the previous budget, 70 percent of funds were allocated for the state apparatus, 20 percent for infrastructure and public spending and the remaining 10 percent for rural development. In the new-look budget, the funds for the state apparatus have been slashed to 27 percent, while 25 percent will go for infrastructure and public spending and 45 percent for rural development.

Papua province also has launched a major infrastructure project, called the integrated transportation network. Under this project, the administration will build seaports, airports and a modern highway system, at a total cost of between Rp 50 trillion and Rp 100 trillion. Funding for the work will come from both the state and provincial budgets, as well as from overseas grants.

Suebu said a modern transportation system would spur economic growth in villages. "Our farmers have to sell their products in the city, but to do this they have to pay a lot for transportation, which cuts their profit. That's a major drawback of a poor transportation system," he told Nethy Dharma Somba of The Jakarta Post in Jayapura.

The governor said the highway construction would begin this year, starting with the 3,000 kilometer Trans-Papua highway, which will connect Papua and West Papua at a cost of Rp 30 trillion.

To save costs, the project will make use of tailings from the PT Freeport mining company, with the end result expected to be of similar quality as concrete roads.

Suebu said with an integrated transportation network, isolated areas would be opened and more investors would come and awaken the "sleeping giant". "This is what we call the new Papua, a prosperous Papua," said the governor.

Among Papua's abundant natural wealth are proven gold and copper reserves of 2.5 billion tons in the PT Freeport mining concession area, 540 million cubic meters of potential commercial timber, nine million hectares of forest conversion areas for large-scale plantations, 2,000 miles of coastline, a sea area of 220,000 square km and 1.3 million tons of potential fishery products per year.

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