“I have to work myself half dead to have enough money for food,” said Roni Sareo, 29, a native Papuan from Keerom district, about 60km north of Jayapura. “I wish there were other jobs.” He graduated from secondary school 12 years ago, but at most can only earn US$75 per month from odd construction jobs, less than half of the $166 monthly minimum wage in the province.
Disadvantaged from the start
The reasons vary for why the unemployment rate of the indigenous half of the population is many times higher than among non-indigenous people, say analysts.
In a May 2013 report by the national statistics bureau, only 17 percent of Papua’s labour force reported receiving income from full-time work, another 45 percent were self-employed or working part-time, and 38 percent were in unpaid household help.
Data for native Papuans is not broken down, but experts say this group usually cannot compete with migrants - who tend to be better-skilled - and most likely form the bulk of the unemployed and underemployed.
There has been an influx of migrants from other parts of the country since Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969, resulting in more competition for education and jobs, experts say. Franciscus Xaverius Motte, a spokesman for the newly elected governor, Lukas Enembe, said poor education is partly to blame for the poor access of indigenous Papuans to employment opportunities.
The government has built schools in even the poorest and most remote areas of the province, but high teacher absenteeism, as discussed in a 2012 UNICEF report, continues to be a problem in spite of government incentives such as “remote area” allowances and housing.
Even when young people manage to finish secondary education, there are few job prospects. Papuan youths say business owners, who are mostly non-indigenous people from elsewhere in the archipelago, stereotype them as being lazy and incompetent with a penchant for drinking.
A local Protestant priest, Lipiyus Biniluk, dismissed the stereotype as a rumour among “unscrupulous” business owners looking to profit from cheap migrant labour. “Businesses won't hire indigenous Papuans because they think they will lose money,” said Biniluk.
Running their own businesses seems a likely solution for native Papuans, but this avenue also has its obstacles, said Sinthia Harkrisnowo, a project coordinator with International Labour Organization, which launched an initiative with the UN Development Programme in 2012 to encourage entrepreneurship among native Papuans.
“The challenge is there's little forward thinking. Many farmers are subsistence producers and they live from hand to mouth,” she told IRIN. “They have no access to the market because even if they want to sell their produce in the city, they can't afford the transport costs.”
Officials and experts have often cited the gap between rich and poor as a contributor to the long-running separatist conflict in Papua region, which consists of Papua and West Papua provinces, and is known as Tanah Papua.
Earlier in 2013, analysis by the Australia National University noted that “in provinces like Papua and West Papua, which are relatively rich compared to the Indonesian average, the picture [of growing inequality] is arguably worse: both exhibit poor Gini ratios [a measure of income disparity] and very high poverty — a combination that implies a very skewed income distribution.”
To pacify separatist demands, in 2001 the government introduced a special autonomy scheme for Tanah Papua. The plan has yet to improve the welfare of Papuans, or the quality of education and healthcare, Neles Tebay, coordinator of the Papua Peace Network in Jayapura, was quoted as saying in local media.
In 2012 the government launched an affirmative action initiative by allowing only native Papuans to bid on government construction projects, but implementation is difficult because of the low capacity of indigenous contractors, Motte, the government spokesman, told IRIN.
“We need to change the model of development. In the past, development focused too much on the physical aspect [infrastructure], but now we want to develop the human side,” he acknowledged, noting the provincial government’s plans to increase the amount provided in scholarships to indigenous students.
At nearly $600 million in 2012, Papua province has one of the largest budgets among the country’s 34 provinces, and the fifth highest gross regional product, but its human development rankings are among the nation’s lowest, including an adult literacy rate of only 64 percent, and less than six years, on average, of formal schooling per resident.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions