Imanuddin Razak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Physical reconstruction and rehabilitation activities in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam alone cannot accelerate development programs in the province severely hit by the December 2004 tsunami and recovering from decades of armed conflict, an official says.
Development will only succeed if local administrations and all elements in society create an environment that promotes trust among the international community and attracts foreign investors, chairman of the Aceh-Nias Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (BRR) Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said Thursday.
"The ongoing reconstruction and rehabilitation projects must also be accompanied by efforts to attract foreign investors (to come to Aceh). Otherwise, it will be difficult to activate the development programs in the province," Kuntoro said during a discussion at The Jakarta Post office.
"The existence of some 15,000 jobless former combatants, who are former members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), also creates unemployment and security problems in the province," he said.
He cited cases of former combatants asking for "security" money from foreign contractors doing reconstruction and rehabilitation projects in Aceh.
Agency secretary Kamaruzzaman agreed, while adding that the problem went beyond former combatants.
"Upon learning that a huge amount of money was circulating in Aceh, many Acehnese who had long been living outside the province decided to return.
"But the reality is that there are no job opportunities for them," said Kamaruzzaman, a former GAM senior official.
Both Kuntoro and Kamaruzzaman agreed that the implementation of sharia has hindered development programs in the province.
"Security has been the most frequent question aired by foreigners, but the implementation of sharia has also been of concern for them," Kuntoro said.
Kamaruzzaman questioned the implementation of Islamic law, which he said was done without the approval of all of Acehnese society.
"To my knowledge, sharia implementation was introduced during the military emergency administration (of the 1990s). And we (GAM) were not in support of the idea, actually," he said.
Kuntoro also used the visit to the Post to present the agency's mid-term progress report.
"We are optimistic about completing (construction) of the 100,000 house next month. And hopefully, we can complete the targeted construction of 160,000 houses by April next year," he said.
He compared the progress the BRR had made with the achievements of other countries undertaking massive rebuilding projects.
"Despite all the criticism, to me, it's such an extraordinary achievement (by the BRR)," he said.
"Honduras, for example, managed to construct 85,000 houses after four years following Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Meanwhile, Turkey constructed 64,000 houses in three years following the 1992 earthquake and Iran is expected to construct 25,000 houses in four years following the 2003 earthquake," he said.