Were the Achenese worth saving?

When the global community came to Aceh’s rescue by agreeing to donate billions of dollars of aid following the devastating tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004 everyone was emotionally lifted at how caring and generous people can be.

Sure, a few cynics might have raised concerns over how the huge amounts of money would be spent given Indonesia’s reputation for corruption, but they were quickly muzzled.

This was not the time to talk about such things. No need to be so pessimistic. After all, given the extent of the suffering and misery, how could anyone be so callous to steal the funds anyway?

Give the country the benefit of the doubt for God’s sake.

But flash forward a few years and here are some interesting facts on the relief effort as revealed by an astonishing article in the UK’s Sunday Times:

- 30% to 40% of all the aid funds, Indonesian and international, are estimated to have been stolen.

- Of the 170,000 homes promised to the people of Aceh, only about 15,000 have been built, one year and four months after the tsunami (contractors simply stole the money given to them by aid agencies and didn’t bother to build the houses).

- UK charities Save the Children and Oxfam gave money to building contractors that constructed structures so flimsy that “a new wave would wash them away”.

- Because of the graft, funds have now been frozen. Bureaucratic and political paralysis means only 10.4% of the funds allocated by the Indonesian government have actually been spent.

- Indonesia’s government reconstruction agency spent £6.3m on temporary housing that was either overpriced or fictitious. A visit was made to one site in Aceh Besar and the barracks didn’t even exist.

- More than £40,000 was embezzled from one children’s food distribution centre alone.

- One aid group paid for 70 new houses, only to find that its own local staff had occupied most of them.

Etc etc.

But worst of all, “the betrayal is all the more cruel because it has been committed, in the main, by the Acehnese themselves”. And this in a region considered to be the most staunchly Islamic part of Indonesia!!!



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