Day By Day

Sunday, May 15, 2005

When bureaucracies collide

Red Nova reports:
DEAH GEULUMPANG, Indonesia -- Political squabbling, donor demands and government indecision have stalled the building of roads, water treatment plants and nearly 180,000 homes for survivors of last December's tsunami.

Aid agencies, which plan to spend more than $7 billion on tsunami relief across the Indian Ocean basin, have put massive building projects on hold while waiting for Indonesian authorities to come up with a solid plan. Only now, nearly five months later, are concrete reconstruction agreements being signed.

Meanwhile, survivors along the battered coasts of Aceh province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra have largely been left to fend for themselves while wondering whether they will rebuild their old homes and revive the fishing industry, their main livelihood.

"People are coming back here to nothing," said Herman Hasbalah, a 33-year-old village leader from Deah Geulumpang, where returning survivors sleep in a damaged coffee house and crowded tents.

"The government hasn't done anything and people are getting frustrated and angry," he said.


"We have not done any reconstruction. We cannot do it without a plan," Holger Leipe, head of International red Cross operations in Aceh, said in an interview.

"If we put up a building and later it's pulled down, it would be a waste of donors' money," Leipe said. "To get it right, we have to have everyone on board."

The first sign of trouble was the government's master plan, released in February to criticism from Acehnese leaders for ignoring their input and barring reconstruction along the coast. An amended draft released a month later was largely without specifics. The government also set out to establish an agency to oversee the four-year, $4.8 billion reconstruction project. But with at least three ministries fighting for a say in new body, it was not until April 30 that former Energy Minister Kuntoro Mangkusubroto was appointed to run it.

"It's shocking," Kuntoro told a news conference Monday. "There are no roads being built, there are no bridges being built, there are no harbors being built. When it comes to reconstruction - zero."

Beyond the inevitable turf fights, what's the problem? In a kleptocracy like Indonesia nothing gets done without massive bribery of officials and the international agencies are not willing to pay the bribes.
The government says the delay is due partly to the magnitude of the task..., but also accuses some donors of setting overly strict conditions. It says donors have refused to release any aid until the government provides a detailed reconstruction blueprint and anti-corruption mechanism.

"Donors want to help but then they say they don't want this help to be corrupted," Planning Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told The Associated Press.

That's the point -- one that is familiar to anyone who has worked with or extensively studied development outside the West [or for that matter the administrative history of the British empire]. In the absence of a professionalized civil service a pervasive culture of corruption impedes and inhibits effective governmental or NGO action. As the United States takes over more and more responsibility for responding to international crises we are going to have to confront this culture directly time and again.

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