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Indonesia Relief Aid Must Be Carefully Monitored, Watchdog Group Says

by Fabio Scarpello

UN Expects Big Donors To Skip Out On Disaster Aid

(IPS) JAKARTA -- Indonesian activists are busy urging that mechanisms for transparency and accountability be put in place to ensure that billions of dollars in aid after the tsunami disaster will go to the right people in the right way.

On the heels of a meeting of world leaders and donors in the Indonesian capital Thursday, development officials and activists say that ways to receive, use and monitor aid in the country which has the highest death toll among the more than 150,000 dead from the Dec. 26 disaster are as important as the huge amounts of money expected.

Goods and money have been pouring into Aceh, the hardest-hit province at the northern tip of Sumatra island, under the supervision of the central government since the relief operations started.

But given chaotic situation and the collapse of Aceh's local administration two weeks after the killer waves struck Aceh now has more than 98,000 people dead -- there is no clear idea of what has been received so far.

"Such a situation makes the monitoring job virtually impossible. You cannot control what you do not know," said Emmy Hafild, secretary general of Transparency International Indonesia. Campaigners also say the tsunami disaster has further weakened control systems in the government and increased the danger of graft, although some foreign development officials said proper systems would help ensure the transparent release and use of aid resources.

Pledges of financial aid to tsunami-hit countries reached $4 billion on Jan. 6, after the donors meeting in Jakarta, though the amount for Indonesia was as not clear, according to local media.

But the Indonesian government has pledged an immediate aid package of $150 million for the country, and estimates that $1.07 billion is needed in the next five years to rebuild devastated areas.

Worried that corruption could seep into the use of aid, activists are pushing for representation in aid management by the Acehnese and not just by the central government in Jakarta, which is viewed with suspicion by many in a province that for decades has been home to a separatist movement.

"An all-embracing team should be entrusted with the monitoring of the funds," Luky Dyani, vice coordinator of Indonesia Corruption Watch, said, calling for a role for civil society in the post-disaster operations.

This team, Luky said, should include some representatives from Aceh, international organizations, local non-government organizations as well as members of parliament.

At the moment, the Indonesian House of Representatives has assigned the monitoring task to a team of 20 legislators. It has also suggested that the finance minister, Jusuf Anwar, be the only one channeling the distribution of international donations.

However, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has made the fight against corruption a priority in his five-year term, has said he will personally control and direct the use of aid funds. "From the beginning, I have said all assistance must be handled with transparency and accountability," he told reporters this week.

Indonesia Corruption Watch has announced that it will conduct independent monitoring of the management of tsunami-related aid.

The concern about corruption and mismanagement stems from past experience in Indonesia, says Hafild. "It has happened in virtually every emergency situation in the past and, unless steps are taken, it will happen again," Hafild said.

In 2004, Indonesia was rated the most corrupt Asian country for business by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. In the same year, the Berlin-based Transparency International judged it the 14th most corrupt country in its global Corruption Perceptions Index.

In Aceh, a theatre of civil war since 1976, Indonesia Corruption Watch says the province accounted for almost half of the estimated 2.7 trillion rupiah ($290.3 million) of national revenue lost to corruption by end-August.

Aceh's current governor, Abdullah Puteh, is facing trial on charges of having taken money meant for the local villagers to buy a helicopter and for personal gain.

International organizations and donor countries have acknowledged the risk of corruption, but Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters: "I think the mechanisms we have to monitor and protect the integrity of our aid programs work pretty well here as they do elsewhere."

Stephane Jaquenet, deputy regional representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said while that the Indonesian government will play the biggest role in handling the funds, the allocation could be discussed from sector to sector.

"It does not mean that, because there is money available, it will be handed over in a big lumpsum," he told IPS.

Dyani and Hafild agree that the bigger risks lie ahead -- once the life-and-death emergency phase is over and reconstruction of the affected areas start.

They suggested that a proper bidding system be quickly put in place. "Bidding can be organized very fast and contracts should be allocated to the best bidder," said Hafild, warning that regular procurement procedures are reportedly being bypassed and may allow companies with political connections to get undue advantage in reconstruction work.

Bivitri Susanti, executive director of Legal Reform Organization, called for the immediate lifting of the civil emergency in Aceh, which she said creates an environment that favours corruption.

"It gives the government the opportunity to put a blanket of secrecy over the process," she said. "I am afraid that a big chunk of aid will be bitten off."

The Indonesian Human Rights Campaign or TAPOL and the East Timor Action Network have also been asking President Yudhoyono to replace the status of civil emergency with one of humanitarian emergency -- and restore civilian supremacy in Aceh.

"We have to avoid the complacency that could derive from having such a large amount of goods and money," Jaquenet added. But the priority at the moment is to help the people on the ground. "Let's remember that we are still in the emergency phase," he said.

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Albion Monitor January 10, 2005 (

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