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Toughest task in Aceh: Guarding against graft

Straits Times - May 16, 2005

Devi Asmarani, Jakarta – Getting massive amounts of aid money into the right hands in tsunami-hit Aceh and keeping it out of the wrong pockets is one of the biggest challenges facing the rebuilding team.

'All the donor groups, whether bilateral, multilateral or private sector, want to feel safe about their money,' said reconstruction agency head Kuntoro Mangkusubroto.

In a telephone interview from his office in Banda Aceh, he said he was not worried about getting funds for the massive process, which is expected to take at least four years.

'There will be a lot of money involved in the projects and the donors want transparency – it is our job to make sure the money is spent wisely and effectively and that there are no leakages,' he said.

One of his agency's many responsibilities is to match donor funds with specific community needs. Indonesia is expecting $3.1 billion in foreign aid for tsunami relief and reconstruction.

Mr Kuntoro said his office was working with auditors Ernst & Young and Pricewaterhouse Coopers to come up with a mechanism that will ensure the contributions will be used for the intended purposes.

He will also impose an 'integrity pact' on all parties involved in the rebuilding projects to prevent corruption.

Indonesian law says that those found guilty of graft in a disaster area could face doubly stiff punishment.

Mr Kuntoro, a former minister of mines and energy, said his main priority is to restore the economy in Aceh by providing jobs. 'You can build houses, clinics and schools, but if there are no jobs then there is no life,' he said.

In urban areas, the focus will be on restoring traditional markets, transportation systems and distribution chains to stimulate commerce. Training centres will offer specialised skills like welding, while fishermen who lost their livelihood will receive boats, he said.

On Friday, Mr Kuntoro witnessed the handover of some 550 hand tractors by the UN Food and Agricultural Agency to 8,700 farmers in Aceh. They will help rehabilitate more than 430ha of the 710ha of paddy fields destroyed by the tsunami.

The outspoken Mr Kuntoro said some of his colleagues in the government had expressed unhappiness over his criticism early this week of the government's 'lack of urgency' in Aceh relief efforts.

'Some ministers showed me papers showing what they had done in Aceh, but I told them I had been on the ground and saw that many people are not getting any help,' he said.

'I'm going to continue to remind them to fulfil their promise – that's the risk of putting me in this position.'