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Minister admits misuse of relief funds

Jakarta Post - January 28, 2005

M. Taufiqurrahman and Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Jakarta – The government admitted on Thursday that the management of public donations for the tsunami survivors in Aceh and North Sumatra had been tainted by malfeasance.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab said that a balance sheet of public donations drawn up by his office revealed the disbursement of a sum of money for a purpose that was not in any way related to the relief effort.

"The balance sheet shows that a large amount of money was paid out to help organize the recent Infrastructure Summit. I am baffled as to what this summit had to do with the tsunami," Alwi said during a meeting with a House of Representatives-sanctioned team tasked with monitoring the government's handling of the relief operation in Aceh.

Alwi, who also chairs the National Relief Committee, said he was determined to fully account for the use of all the relief funds contributed by government and private sector institutions, and individuals all over the country.

"I could have altered the balance sheet by stating that the sum of money was to be used for mass burials or something else, but that would have been a lie. I want to say here, however, that the balance sheet was drawn up by my subordinates," Alwi said.

The balance sheet – copies of which have yet to be made available to the public as it is still being finalized in advance of the next Cabinet meeting, shows that a sum of Rp 200 million (US$22,000) was disbursed to help pay for the Infrastructure Summit on January 17 in Jakarta.

The balance sheet, seen by The Jakarta Post, reveals that the government has received Rp 914 billion from the public and has spent Rp 114 billion on relief operations in the tsunami-stricken areas.

Alwi said the government proposed to deposit all the donations in a single account from which all disbursements of the remaining monies could easily be monitored.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Acehnese public figures said during a meeting with Vice President Jusuf Kalla that the public should be allowed to participate in the auditing of relief funds.

"Public participation is a must in the audit process to ensure transparency and also to convince donor countries, given our reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world," delegation member Asna Husein told reporters after the meeting.

The delegates also urged the government to include Acehnese figures in a public campaign to lift the spirits of the tsunami victims.

Responding to the delegation's requests, Kalla was quoted by Asna as saying that the government would do its best to comply.

Kalla was also quoted as saying that most of the countries that had pledged financial assistance for the reconstruction effort in Aceh had yet to come good on their promises.

Any backtracking on aid pledges or failures to deliver could hinder full reconstruction in Aceh, Asna added.

"The Vice President said that the government would talk directly to donors to encourage them to realize their commitments," she said during a press conference after the meeting.