Monday, April 11, 2005
  Tsunami aid siphoned off?

Questions are currently, and quite rightly, being raised about where the donations to the victims of the Aceh Tsunami are going.

There is, of course, the implication that Indonesian bureaucrats and the military are feathering their own nests. Given Indonesia's endemic corruption and without proof to the contrary this may seem to be a well-justified suspicion but news of large-scale malfeasance does not (yet) exist.

These are early days in the reconstruction of Aceh, and Nias and Simeulue hit by the massive aftershock on March 28th. These are also early days in the SBY presidency and as he mends fences with regional neighbours others are getting on with the mundane tasks of rebuilding bridges, schools and providing other basic relief.

Local groups, such as the Electric Lamb Mission and SurfAid International, both operating out of Padang in West Sumatra, are two such groups.

After departing Krueng Raya volunteers spent a lot of time repacking aid material that arrived at Krueng Raya wet. Rain on the trip from Medan caused some delays and the last trucks arrived in the late afternoon. We had to load everything by hand and the dock workers went home at 1800. Last 30 tons of food and fuel in drums all loaded by volunteers. We worked all night and completed at dawn so everyone exhausted. Heavy swell after leaving BA and entering Indian Ocean made admin work impossible while underway. We had to secure computers and equipment on top deck. Work focused on building shelving for medical supplies and finishing installation of the water-maker.

Teams are being dropped into the isolated regions of central Nias by helicopter, then spending two days in the areas trekking into villages which have limited access. The search and rescue teams are finding that up to 80% of dwellings are now uninhabitable while 90% - 100% of the populations are displaced. Food supplies are low.

These two local organizations and the many international groups are providing services from their own funding sources.

· A delegation from Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, funded by the city and Turkish citizens, is sweeping streets in the devastated city of Banda Aceh and has even shipped in a bakery that turns out 10,000 loaves of bread each day.

· British-based Oxfam is employing thousands in cash-for-work programs in Aceh ranging from home-building to hat-weaving. It distributes women's underwear and teaches villagers to harvest rainwater.

· Red Cross staff from Sweden, Austria and tiny Macedonia are helping provide clean drinking water.

The major concern lies with the funding 'promised' by governments. Australia's commitment is one such example.

Why is Australia giving half the $1 billion as loans?

Why does Australia's tsunami commitment directly reflect the objectives of Australia's aid program to Indonesia outlined by the Foreign Minister in his statement of May 2004 - seven months before the tsunami struck?

Why is the package that was widely credited as a "tsunami aid package" being dedicated to other regions of Indonesia?

Careful attention to Prime Minister John Howard's statements indicates that this $1 billion is not about aid to tsunami affected Aceh, but to the Australia-Indonesia partnership.

As I noted on Wednesday April 6th, and as reported in the Down To Earth March Newsletter, Indonesia owes around US$1.76 billion to the British government (mainly for arms sales). While it is true that this represents just a small fraction of the overall debt of US$132 billion, it is still a significant sum, far outstripping, for example, the $96 million that the UK government has pledged to the tsunami aid effort.

The UN has already received an unprecedented 90% of the $977 million appeal launched by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked for in January. These funds came from taxpayers' money and private donations and has mostly been spent providing food, shelter and medical help for tsunami survivors. One would hope that strict accountancy procedures are in place in the U.N.

As U.N. envoy Erskine Bowles said of the corruption claims after a recent visit to Aceh, "I think any time you had a disaster of this magnitude, affecting this many people and with the great outpouring of support from the world community, whether it happened here or in Europe or in Africa or other parts of Asia or Latin America or North America, that you would have some isolated incidents of money not ending up where it was intended to."

He added. "The key is, are you setting up the right accounting, the right transparency so that you can prevent the vast majority of it?"

Ah, the key.

Following a conference in Jakarta called to discuss ways to minimize corruption in the distribution of aid, Jak Jabes of the ADB said, "Donors should coordinate with governments and among themselves to avoid duplication of assistance schemes.They should also establish uniform procurement rules, maintain and publish clear books and records and provide assurance of full internal and external controls. They must further make a careful assessment of the local conditions so that allocated resources match needs."

This is understood by the Indonesian government which is arguing that it should be the overall coordinator of the reconstruction. The chairman of the National Planning Agency, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, admitted that she was "frankly" worried that the desire of so many donors - including governments and aid groups - to plan their own programs quickly was overwhelming her government.

"It is too hard for my own staff - let alone the local governments in Aceh that have been so devastated by this crisis - to have to deal with the additional challenge of different standards and rules for so many different donors," Dr Indrawati said.

"We understand that we will need to put in place a strong and independent governance framework to ensure accountability, transparency, participation, fairness, effectiveness and integrity. This week we will be announcing governance arrangements for the reconstruction that are unprecedented in the history of Indonesia."

Jakartass believes that Indonesia needs to be trusted. It welcomes the offers of help, including the essential development of an accountability framework. An international overview could well be the catalyst which forces a new paradigm of transparency here so it is premature to accuse and condemn the country.



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