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Corruption challenge for Aceh aid

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  • Ambon
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4583557.stm Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK Corruption challenge for Aceh aid By Rachel Harvey
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2005
      Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
      Corruption challenge for Aceh aid
      By Rachel Harvey
      BBC News, Aceh

      Workers clearing rice fields in Aceh as part of a cash-for-work scheme
      Some are claiming fees for referring people to work
      Aceh is the most corrupt province in one of the world's most corrupt countries - and it is about to receive $6bn in aid following the Asian tsunami. What are the chances of that money being well - and honestly - spent?

      The level of support from governments and individuals around the world was unprecedented following the 26 December tsunami, as the scale of the destruction became apparent.

      But Indonesia's reputation for corruption has meant that there are major concerns on how well this money will be spent.

      Only last month, the governor of Aceh, Abdullah Puteh, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for the corrupt purchase of a helicopter in 2001.

      "I don't think any agency working within Indonesia can fully guarantee that there's absolutely no chance of corruption," Stephen Gwynne-Vaughn, the head of Aceh operations for the aid organisation Care International, told BBC World Service's Assignment programme.

      'Skimming off'

      So far, aid agencies working within the worst-hit areas of Indonesia have reported witnessing only small-scale corruption.

      Care International, which has a budget of $75m to invest in Aceh over the next five years, has been tracking concerns by providing post-boxes at project sites so people can confidentially raise the alarm about any wrongdoing.

      Mr Gwynne-Vaughn said that there would eventually be a team of five investigators to check every complaint, and that the idea was already yielding some results.

      Worker building temporary barracks
      The construction of some temporary barracks has caused concern
      In one case, a community leader was reported for "skimming off" food meant for the most poverty-stricken.

      Another was found to be taking a cut of labourers' wages in exchange for referring them for work schemes.

      But there are also suspicions of corruption in a large government project to house the more than 500,000 people in Aceh who were left homeless by the disaster.

      The solution - the building of complexes of long, wooden accommodation blocks, known locally as barracks - has left developers with ample scope to make extra profit through illegally cutting costs.

      At one site near Banda Aceh, visited by the BBC, the wood holding up the barracks was not attached to the concrete, but loose and could easily be moved out.

      More sand had been mixed with concrete that had been specified in the building regulations, while the floor depth was a number of centimetres too shallow. The tsunami survivors who have moved in are unhappy.

      "I don't think this is strong enough if there is another earthquake," said one resident.

      "Even when there are children playing around, we can hear their footsteps everywhere. The floor shakes."

      'Elective corruption'

      In this case, the developer said his work had been examined by a government official and approved. This was checked at offices in Jakarta, who said there had been a "mistake" in clearing the building.

      There's no secrecy about this process - they usually hand over the money then and there
      Whistleblower Muktar Lufti
      Muktar Lufti, a former civil servant who turned whistleblower two years ago - detailing rampant corruption within the construction industry - said that often wrongdoing goes to the highest level.

      "Corruption in Aceh includes members of Parliament, the executive, legislature, and businessmen," he added.

      "We call it 'elective corruption', and it's very difficult to expose."

      He gave an example of a 2002 road building project, which was so cheaply done that the roads had to be completely resurfaced only a year later.

      The money to build them had instead gone to the project commissioners - often a mayor, who will simply appoint a partner for the project.

      "If they do open a tender, it's usually engineered, so it's completely fraudulent," he added.

      "Then 7.5% of the money will be given to the Mayor - and there will be other slices for other people.

      "So for a project worth 5bn rupiah, there will be only 3bn left... there's no secrecy about this process - they usually hand over the money then and there," he said.

      Activists encouraged

      Despite these worries, there are signs that attitudes in Indonesia are changing.

      The country's new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has promised that "the fight against corruption is a top priority for my government in the next five years." As a result, an independent anti-corruption commission was set up.

      Last month, this commission took its first big scalp - Mr Puteh, the governor of Aceh, who was accused of stealing state funds after he was given money to buy a helicopter.

      Abdullah Puteh (left) with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - archive picture
      Mr Yudhoyono's crackdown on corruption sent Abdullah Puteh (left) to jail
      Anti-corruption activists have been encouraged by this prosecution.

      Colin Rogers, a project co-ordinator for the British charity Oxfam, told the BBC that in three months of working in the country, he had not "seen any evidence at all" of corruption.

      And Joel Helman, the Chief Governance Advisor of the World Bank in Jakarta, added that the presence of so many aid agencies was now giving activists more courage to come forward than ever before.

      "What is going to make this reconstruction process successful is if the BBC, local government groups, civil society groups, activists, can go and make these comparisons," he said.

      "If everyone knows in advance that is possible, it is going to reduce significantly the incentives to engage in corruption, because it's going to increase significantly the chances that they will be found out," he said.

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