Jakarta – The symbolic hand over of money to the Finance Ministry’s Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) to replay scholarship funds received by human rights activist Veronica Koman by the Papuan People’s Solidarity Team was not able to go ahead because the LPDP office was closed on Wednesday September 16.
Initially, several Papua People’s Solidarity Team representatives, namely former political prisoners Ambrosius Mulait and Dano Tabuni, who were accompanied by Papua human rights lawyer Michael Himan, arrived at the LPDP offices.
The Solidarity Team brought 3 million rupiah in cash which was to be handed over along with a national red-and-white flag and a copy of a transfer receipt for the rest of the money. Mulait and Tabuni could be seen wearing traditional Papuan costumes complete with penis gourds (koteka).
“I feel disappointed with the LPDP office, we already sent a letter dated September 15. (The LPDP) did not responded to us when we arrived on the grounds that the office is closed”, Himan told journalists on Wednesday.
The team was not even able to enter the LPDP office because the front gates were also closed. Security personnel guarding the building said that the office is not operating because of the Large Scale Social Restrictions (PSBB) to curb the spread of the corona virus which have been in force in Jakarta since Monday.
Although the symbolic handover was unable to take place, Himan emphasised that the scholarship money amounting to 773,876,918 rupiah (US$52,760) which the LPDP demanded Koman pay back had already been returned through a bank transfer.
“This is a symbolic handover of 3 million rupiah from the Papuan mama-mama [traditional Papuan women traders] which they sent to us”, he said.
Himan said however that the group will continue waiting until the LPDP opens so they can handover the money. “We won’t use it because it’s from the little people. We will definitely return, when the office is open we will come back”, he said.
In August Koman announced on her Twitter account that the LPDP had asked her to return her scholarship amounting to 773 million rupiah which she received in 2016 to study her Master’s degree in Australia.
The demand for the return of the money was seen as a form of pressure by the Indonesian government so that she would stop talking about and advocating human rights issues in Papua.
Koman herself is currently a suspect on charges of alleged incitement related to an attack on a Papuan student dormitory in the East Java city of Surabaya on August 16, 2019.
The LPDP management however denies that the request for the return of the money is related to her activities.
According to the LPDP’s system, Koman failed to live up to her contract and obligation to return to Indonesia after completing her studies. Koman did indeed return to Indonesia in 2018 but then flew back to Australia before graduating from her studies.
Koman graduated in July 2019 but only reported her graduation through the LPDP’s evaluation and monitoring system on September 23, 2019.
Based on this, the LPDP issued a letter from the executive director on the sanctions in the form of the return of the LPDP scholarship funds amounting to 773.87 million rupiah to Koman on October 24, 2019. The first letter of claim was issued on November 22, 2019.
In the letter detailing the sanctions and claim, the LPDP stated that on February 15, 2020, Koman agreed to an offer to return the scholarship funds by paying it off in 12 installments. The first installment of 64.5 million rupiah was paid and the money deposited in a state account in April 2020.
In response to the demand for the money, Papuan Solidarity and international groups launched a fundraising campaign.
The fundraising campaign was referred to as an act of solidarity from the Papuan people to Koman who has been active in advocating human rights issues in the land of the Bird of Paradise – as West Papua is known.
There has yet to be any statement from the LPDP on the closure of their office. (yoa/sur)
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Beasiswa Veronica Koman Dikembalikan, Kantor LPDP Tutup”.]