Susilo, with full support of United Nations, national and international NGOs, should appoint a high-powered Special Prosecutor to ensure that Indonesia is not hit by a tsunami of corruption in the disbursement of billions of dollars of tsunami aid
by Lim Kit Siang
(Ipoh, Saturday): When he became Indonesian President last October, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s biggest challenge was the eradication of endemic corruption in Indonesia, which has one of the worst reputation for graft in Asia. Everyone thought however he would have time to prove his anti-corruption mettle. But this is not to be.
The December 26 Sumatra 9.0-magnitude earthquake which unleashed the worst tsunamis in recorded history in its arc of destruction and death across nearly 4,000 miles in 13 countries and six time zones also destroyed his presidential honeymoon period, presenting him with an immediate national and international test of his commitment and courage to fight a tsunami of corruption in his country in the disbursement of tsunami aid.
The world has seen a rare outpouring of compassion, charity and generosity, with governments around the world having pledged close to US$4 billion in aid so far and private groups or individuals another US$630 million. On top of these pledges, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced that it is ready to offer up to US$1 billion in financial assistance to countries hit by the Asian tsunamis catastrophe.
The omission in the agenda of the international post-tsunami reconstruction summit in Jakarta on Thursday to address the looming concern about graft and corruption in the disbursement of the billions of dollars of tsunami aid in one of the most corrupt nations in the world is most unfortunate and regrettable.
Indonesia is ranked among the world’s 10 most corrupt nations out of 146 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2004. Its jails are filled with officials charged with graft, and the Aceh governor is on trial for allegedly taking money meant for villages and padding the purchase price of a helicopter.
Several relief efforts in Indonesian regions beset by civil conflict have been marred by corruption. Aid officials in Ambon, where Christians and Muslims have fought for years, are on trial for exaggerating refugee figures and pocketing the additional state funds.
Local anti-graft activists fear more than 30% of the billions of dollars of tsunami aid for the millions of Indonesian victims for their relief and recovery could be stolen – about the average that disappear each year from the national government’s budget.
They are particularly concerned because the aid is going to Aceh, where a decades-long separatist insurgency has left local authority essentially in the hands of the Indonesian military, an institution often accused of graft.
Indonesian Corruption Watch, one of the several non-profit groups that campaign against graft, said it already has reports of bureaucrats selling donated rice in Aceh and aid supplies being pilfered before they reach the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.
With his first two months in office dominated by an anti-corruption campaign, Susilo has publicly promised not to allow any tsunami funds to be misappropriated, inviting civil societies, the corruption watchdog and others to ensure that “a single of rupiah, a single of dollar must be handled with transparency and accountable … to ensure that the international contribution is truly address the disaster victims”.
The United Nations, hurt by the oil-for-food scandal, has a vested interest to demonstrate that it is capable of co-ordinating the most massive emergency relief operation with accountability, transparency and integrity.
Susilo, with full support of United Nations, national and international NGOs, should establish a mechanism to prevent any siphoning of the billions of dollars of aid for the post-tsunami relief and recovery operation in Indonesia, including the appointment of a high-powered Special Prosecutor, to ensure that Indonesia is not hit by a tsunami of corruption in the disbursement of tsunami aid.
Susilo can reverse Indonesia’s reputation for corruption by assigning officials to the aid effort who are known not to have sticky palms for taking bribes.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman