Friday, February 18, 2005

Crisis in Aceh ~ News Update

News update as part of "Crisis in Aceh" series. In chronological order and the higlights are mine.


Feb 15-21, 2005

Opinion ~ Nonintegrated and Noncomprehensive

Rebuilding Aceh will need much planning and huge programs, yet the special authority has been scrapped, its role reduced to executing reconstruction plans.

Each day that the reconstruction of Aceh is delayed, raises the cost by hundreds of millions of rupiah. Added to this are the social and psychological costs borne by the victims, who are living in tents and temporary buildings. This inefficiency could be reduced if the urgently needed rebuilding of tsunami-destroyed areas can begin immediately.

The government has been moving slowly, taking its time carefully in planning and organizing. It is not clear whether that is the reason. What is clear is that seven weeks have passed since the tsunami struck Aceh, yet nothing is being rebuilt out of the ruins. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono once told a visitor from Singapore that the blueprint for the rehabilitation and reconstruction was still being prepared.

Meanwhile, the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) has been tasked with preparing the master plan for the reconstruction of Aceh and Nias. Reportedly, this reconstruction will start on March 26, after the emergency aid phase comes to an end, and the reconstruction master plan is completed. Before this, President Yudhoyono and the House of Representatives' (DPR) leadership had agreed on the need to set up a special authority to administer post-tsunami Aceh. Nothing more has been heard since, although three weeks have passed.

The proposal to set up an authority with full powers to immediately commence rebuilding Aceh is both timely and appropriate. This magazine gave unreserved support for the body to be established immediately (see Opinion: Special Authority, Special Case in Tempo, January 31, 2005 edition). The reason behind our thinking was clear, namely the need to balance the massive requirements with the kind of organization needed to implement them. The scale and complexity of the problems caused by the tsunami in Aceh are extraordinary. They must be handled using extraordinary methods: it is not enough to take half-hearted, small and slow measures.

This approach stresses on the organizational needs of the future, not on the rebuilding plan first. The problem is clear: the effort to rebuild Aceh is equivalent to the gigantic effort of rebuilding a nation from scratch. It needs coordination, it needs an authority, or whatever you want to call it, that is given full powers to handle the administration of all activities in - to borrow a term SBY is fond of using - an integrated and comprehensive way. Debating whether it is best to build settlements 2.5 kilometers or 3 kilometers away from the coast, for example, is not the main priority at this point in time.

By all appearances, the government seems to have abandoned the idea of a special authority, deciding instead to set up a body to execute the reconstruction, as stated by Vice President Jusuf Kalla as well as Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab. Its powers will be limited to coordinating the implementation of the reconstruction as set out in the master plan drawn up by Bappenas. Our own convictions notwithstanding, we are worried that the rebuilding of Aceh will not proceed as it should.

Everything that can possibly be done should be done well, or else it is because of the limitations of its executors. Criticism will be directed at needless and preventable mistakes. This is why we are expressing our criticism, and putting forward our recommendation for a body with full authority, once again.


The Jakarta Post
February 15, 2005

Opinion ~ RI and the international community in the tsunami's aftermath
By Jusuf Wanandi, Jakarta

One striking thing that the tsunami has shown to Indonesians is the deep and broad support, solidarity and empathy of the International Community towards Indonesia in overcoming this horrific natural disaster. There are no other ulterior motives than humanitarian solidarity and empathy. The gut reaction by xenophobic Indonesians about the motives and vested interests of the foreign community, ranging from intervention in Indonesian domestic affairs to espionage, is simply laughable.

There has never been such an outpouring of empathy and solidarity before towards Indonesia and our sufferings. We should appreciate that, and also show our gratitude since we do need all the assistance and help, especially for a part of Indonesia that has suffered so much for so long. Without international help and assistance, many more Acehnese would have died in the aftermath of the tsunami, due to hunger, sickness and deprivation.

Our gratitude should also be shown by how we handle all the financial aid and assistance for reconstruction. That means that we should be able to organize it well and with a minimum of waste and corruption as possible. Foreign donors are most worried about this, and understandably so. If we fail to do so, aid will no longer be forthcoming to fulfill all the needs. This will not only affect the reconstruction of Aceh, but more devastatingly will severely affect our relationship with the outside world in the future.

The role and responsibility of the local government in the reconstruction of Aceh, with the assistance and supervision from Jakarta, will be a heavy one because they must work efficiently and be free from all corruption. It is fine to have outside accounting firms such as Ernst and Young to do the oversight, but this might not be adequate. As indicated in the master plan prepared by the central government in consultation with local governments and local leaders, reconstruction efforts by donors could be undertaken directly so long as they are in accordance with the plan and in cooperation with national and local partners.

If the Indonesian government and the elite do not want to be scrutinized, they should do it by themselves and with their own money, as India and Thailand have decided to do. That is acceptable and honorable. But you cannot have your cake and eat it too!

Another important issue is the political solution to the conflict between the Indonesian government and GAM (the Free Aceh Movement). A lot of expectations have been created by the tsunami that a political solution would be sought, since GAM is also facing a lot of challenges and has been weakened due to the military operations and the disruption in their logistics lines and support from the coastal areas, which have been hit and damaged by the tsunami. The international community has also encouraged both sides to work out a political solution, and the civil society in Jakarta and many leaders in Aceh are also expecting that.

In the meantime, the reality is that GAM only seems to want a ceasefire, perhaps long enough to recuperate from the setback, while the government would like to find a final political solution based on the full implementation of the Special Autonomy Law, financial compensation for GAM and for Aceh, as well as amnesty for GAM. Based on Special Autonomy, GAM could participate fully in the political processes in Aceh. It appears that GAM is as yet not prepared to give up their long-term objective of gaining total independence for Aceh. It is not easy to bridge this gap. It is also not clear whether GAM leaders living in Aceh are more pragmatic than those living in Stockholm, who seem to have a solid hold on the leadership.

It is a better option for the government to first have a complete plan supported by all the important elements, including the legislature and the Indonesian Military (TNI), before resuming talks with GAM. The President, being personally involved in earlier talks in Geneva and Tokyo, should understand that he must provide leadership in finding a solution for the Aceh problem.

The decades-long struggle has shown how costly the conflict has been for both sides. The tsunami is a good reminder that peace is critical for Aceh's rehabilitation and reconstruction. Jakarta has to show its magnanimity to all Acehnese to seriously undertake the reconstruction of Aceh and to give GAM members not only amnesty but also the right to participate fully in the governing of Aceh through their own political party in local elections in the future, however that must be within the confines of the Republic of Indonesia.

The writer is co-founder & member of the Board of Trustees, and Senior Fellow Centre for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS.


The Jakarta Post
Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Acehnese involvement vital

Medan, North Sumatra: The state government must do something to involve the Acehnese in its rebuilding and reconstruction programs, a group of activists said on Tuesday.

Speaking after a meeting in Medan, Naimah Hasan, the spokeswoman of the 12-group NGO coalition, said that the involvement of the Acehnese was a must if the programs were to best fit the needs of the people.

Problems were already being caused because of a lack of coordination, she said.

The central government had already insisted it built refugee shelters further inland because it feared the return of tsunami, while many of the refugees would prefer shelters built near coastal areas where they could make a living as fishermen, she said. -- JP


The Jakarta Post
Thursday, February 17, 2005

Aceh: Focus on People

The reconstruction of Aceh moved into a new stage this week with the completion of military-style barracks to shelter victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami. Not all the barracks have been completed but some 3,281 families, or more than 11,000 people, have now moved from their tents -- that had been their home since the Dec. 26 disaster -- to the more substantial constructions.

More and more of them will be moved out of their tents over the coming days and weeks as more barracks are completed. The government estimates that some 100,000 of the estimated 500,000 displaced people will be accommodated in these new facilities. Others will probably have to linger on in their tents for the time being, and some will continue living with their relatives who were not directly affected by the disaster.

As much as we'd like to laud this as a significant development in the government's program to rebuild Aceh, the barracks are only marginally better as a place of abode than the tents. Physically, they are certainly much better, especially since rain often makes the depressing life inside tents even more miserable. But as a place to rebuild family and community life, the barracks, at least the way that they have been designed and constructed, are unlikely to be much better than the tents.

The barracks provide very little privacy, and this is absolutely necessary for normal family life to function. The partitions separating one family from another inside the building are quite inadequate. Families also have to share amenities, such as bathrooms and kitchen, with other families in the barracks.

Any joy that the barracks bring to relocated families is likely to be short-lived once the reality of barracks life sinks in. Depression, so common in the camps over the past few weeks, will continue to haunt them.

The government's Aceh reconstruction program puts too much emphasis on physical aspects and not nearly enough on psychological aspects. Rebuilding Aceh must ultimately be about rebuilding the lives of its people. And where better to start than rebuilding the life of every family in Aceh that has been shattered by the disaster.

The decision to build the barracks was taken somewhat hastily when other options, including some that took into consideration matters of privacy, were clearly available at the time. The Alumni Association of Gadjah Mada University (KAGAMA), for example, came up with a proposal to design shelters in clusters of small houses that give both privacy and a sense of community. Its proposal was turned down in favor of standardized military-style barracks, although the KAGAMA plan was as doable and inexpensive as the barracks.

While it is now too late to change, the lesson from this episode is that the government's program to rebuild Aceh must focus on people. Physical constructions must be adapted to the needs of people, not vice versa. Given the scale of the destruction, rebuilding Aceh will be a very costly and time consuming project. But the place to start should be with the family, then the community, then the entire province.

The barracks are merely very temporary shelters for the tsunami victims. They are not designed as places for people to rebuild family life, let alone rebuild communities.

The government must now set itself a deadline as to how long these people will be expected to live in these military-style barracks before they are moved to proper places in order to rebuild their families and communities.


The Guardian (UK)
Thursday, February 17, 2005

Tsunami Rebuilding Bill Outgrows World's Gifts
By Owen Bowcott

Reconstruction could cost US$12.5 billion but so far only US$5.5 billion has been pledged

The total cost of reconstructing areas devastated by the Asian tsunami could be as high as $12.5bn (£6.65bn), according to the first overall assessment by the UN. The estimate comes as charities around the world world wide start closing their appeals because they believe enough has been raised.

But so far promises for only $5.5bn (£2.92bn) have been received. The UN development programme, which is coordinating the next phase of the aid effort, fears it may yet suffer a shortfall in funds needed to pay for longer term reconstruction.

In Britain, the Disasters Emergency Committee is due to announce today that it will close its most successful appeal ever on February 26, although it says that donations are still rolling in from sponsored runs and supermarket collections.

It has collected more than £300m, and another £50m has been raised independently by other British charities.

Initial estimates place the bill for Indonesia at up to $5bn (£2.7bn) and for Sri Lanka $3.5bn (£1.86bn). Including India, the Maldives and Thailand, the total reconstruction cost are expected to be between $9.8bn and $12.5bn .

There is confusion, consequently, whether the extraordinary scale of the world's generosity will be sufficient to deal with the unprecedented magnitude of the destruction inflicted by the disaster.

The massive sums involved and the complexity of the operation have also caused a fear that money could be siphoned off by corruption and that rival aid agencies may inadvertently duplicate aid projects.

The fluctuation in expectations is illustrated by the fact that the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said on January 3 that it was "almost certain" the government would match the donations made by the public.

That now appears to have been quietly shelved.

So far, the UK government has announced that it will give £75m directly, plus another £10m through the EU. It has also promised £50m over the next decade in debt relief to affected nations.

The UN, embarrassed by the shortcomings of its oil for food programme in Iraq, is determined that the tsunami relief programme should set new standards in transparency and accountability.

Hafiz Pasha, the UN assistant secretary general in charge of the global tsunami task force told the Guardian this week that UN agencies were still $270m (£144m) short of the funds requested in the first appeal for the recovery stage of the programme.

"Of that, $180m has been promised but has not yet materialised," Mr Pasha, a former Pakistani finance minister, explained.

"The remainder is not yet committed."

In London, on his way to visit the affected countries, Mr Pasha hopes to persuade the Department for International Development and aid agencies to donate money raised but not yet allocated to specific projects.

The priority now, he says, is repairing the basic infrastructure of roads, hospitals and schools. The difficult question, which has not yet been faced, is deciding how much should be rebuilt of communities which have been virtually eradicated.

"In parts of Aceh, it's like Ground Zero. People will not necessarily go back to neighbourhoods they lived in," he said.

"There are demographic issues which could lead to [different] resettlement patterns. Both Sri Lanka and Indonesia want to resettle people a significant way back from the sea."

One recurrent criticism of aid work has been that cash is spent on foreign consultants' fees.

"We have had to take on 300 extra staff in Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, but only 60 are expatriates," Mr Pasha said.

"But our aim is that the cost of delivering the programme should be not more than 5% of overall costs."

"We are worried about corruption. One of the things we have done is to strengthen our procurement processes in Bangkok to ensure that [our operation] is competitive and transparent.

"We are setting up accountancy systems with firms such as PriceWaterhouse, DeLoitte and Touche and Accenture. A lot of it is pro-bono work. We want to ensure the money really gets to the target."

The other financial fear has been that the outpouring of generosity will divert funds from less dramatic disasters.

Earlier this week the executive director of the UN world food programme, James Morris, said: "We [must] ensure that the 'tsunami effect' does not ripple across Africa, drawing funds away from humanitarian operations there and adding Sudanese, Angolan and Liberian victims to its toll."


The Christian Science Monitor
Friday, February 18, 2005

Ethnic Chinese Key to Aceh Fix-Up
By Tom McCawley Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Minority Chinese own an estimated 60 percent of Banda Aceh's shops, but many fled after the tsunami.

Banda Aceh, Indonesia: In a crammed row of storefronts, only Joy Optikal, an eyeglasses shop, has reopened on a dusty street of the tsunami-battered city of Banda Aceh.

"Live or die, I will stay in Aceh," says a defiant Maria Herawati, who has run the store with her husband, Joannes Jony Pandy, for 16 years.

The two are part of Banda Aceh's small ethnic Chinese minority. Unlike an estimated 6,000 other Chinese who left, they decided to stay behind in the city after the Dec. 26 tsunami that killed some 240,000 people in Indonesia.

Ethnic Chinese are the heart of Aceh's trading community. How fast they return and set up shop will help determine the speed of recovery in the province hardest-hit by the tsunami.

Mrs. Herawati, whose family has survived wars, revolution, and persecution since migrating from China about a century ago, says she is determined to start business again, selling eyeglasses to the citizens of Banda Aceh.

In an interview last month, her husband recounts the story of standing guard on their shop's roof over five days and nights while looters pillaged their neighbor's deserted shops. "Either I was going to die, or they were going to die," says Mr. Pandy. "People thought I was crazy." The two are bitter that police and military officers stood by as looters swept through the city's trading district.

After braving the deadly flood waters, the two now face a much longer challenge: rebuilding a business in a city where up to 40 percent of the population perished in the tsunami.

Aceh's economy will benefit from an aid effort expected to cost $4.5 billion over the next five years, some of that distributed by Western nongovernmental organizations and companies. And the biggest industrial enterprise in Aceh, the PT Arun natural gas facility, is operated by a US company, ExxonMobil Corp., along with a Japanese partner and the Indonesian government.

But the small ethnic Chinese businesses such as Joy Optikal have formed a vital trading network linking economic sectors in Aceh, and indeed much of Southeast Asia. Business conglomerates founded by ethnic Chinese tycoons dominate Indonesia's stock
exchanges and much of the economy. In Banda Aceh, ethnic Chinese own an estimated 60 percent of the shops and distribute everything from spare parts to business loans.

"If they [the ethnic Chinese] don't come back, the economy here will die," said Udin, a Muslim construction worker taking refuge in a Buddhist temple.

The temple, a few hundred yards from Joy Optikal, is a way station for Tolong Menolong, an organization that has been helping Aceh's estimated 200,000 ethnic Chinese. In the city of Medan, hundreds of Acehnese Chinese are living in a camp known as Metal Street, set up by the organization.

A scapegoated community
Tolong Menolong, founded in 1970, also has its roots in political turmoil and exile. Chin Chung Mao, Tolong Menolong's 75-year old coordinator and one of its founders, says the flood of homeless people in the days after the tsunami evokes painful memories of another exodus 40 years ago.

Mr. Chin's family fled Aceh in 1965, accused of sympathy with Beijing amidst anti-Communist fervor sweeping Indonesia after an alleged coup attempt in faraway Jakarta by Indonesia's Communist party, the PKI. "This disaster, the refugees, it all reminded me," he says.

Chin himself set up camp on Metal Street in Medan in the 1960s, where hundreds of homeless Acehnese Chinese families are now camping. Tolong Menolong was founded soon afterwards.

The organization has since helped to bring in doctors from Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore to treat tsunami victims. Businesses with a large number of ethnic Chinese employees, such as PT Astra Internasional, Indonesia's largest automotives maker, have also donated resources to the relief effort.

The ethnic Chinese, who make up around 4 percent of the country's 220-million people, have often become political scapegoats under Indonesian governments and also the former Dutch colonial regime, partly due to their prosperity and their relatively small numbers.

But Tolong Menolong, which now boasts a network of 400 families, has flourished under new cultural freedoms that blossomed after Indonesia took a stumbling step towards democracy when authoritarian President Suharto fell from power in 1998.

"We Chinese were harshly suppressed" under Suharto's 32-year rule, says Chin, speaking a week after the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration known as Imlek.

Under Suharto, open displays of Chinese culture, such as calligraphy or language schools, were banned, and many ethnic Chinese were pressured to take Muslim names.

By contrast, since 2000, the community has openly celebrated Imlek. A national television network features a Mandarin language program. Chin says the residents at Metal Street took a brief respite at Imlek with traditional celebrations. Even the nonethnic-Chinese governor arrived to distribute the traditional Ang Pao - red, cash-filled envelopes that usher in prosperity.

Tolong Menolong is now gently persuading thousands of displaced people to return to their homes and businesses in Aceh and start again. It is offering food and small cash grants in return for a pledge from recipients not to return to Metal Street.

A town half full
Back in Banda Aceh, Pandy says he believes that people whose families survived and whose businesses weren't completely destroyed would return.

"Half of our customers are dead," he said last month, his eyes bloodshot and bleary after weeks of stress. "Half of them are still alive!" said Herawati, clad in her pajamas and snapping orders at employees.

Nearly a month later, a few more shops close by have opened, but business has not picked up. Pandy wants to pack up and move to Jakarta, but Maria's resolve to stay has not waned.

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