Wednesday, May 6, 2009
After the Spotlight Fades . . .
--from Tempo Magazine No. 36/IX05-11 May, 2009
ACEH With BRR's mission complete, foreign donors have begun to leave Aceh. Two regents have also declined assets. ATJEH Market next to the Baiturrahman Mosque, Banda Aceh, was one of the hot spots during the tsunami on December 26, 2004. With bodies scattered between ravaged stalls, Aceh's landmark gate was buried beneath piles of rubbish brought on by the waves. Four years have passed and now Atjeh Market has become a modern market. The Rp33 billion renovation was funded by the Japan International Cooperation System. The new Atjeh Market, a half-hectare building with clear glass windows which houses 300 merchants, was officially opened last week. "I bet people would rather hang out in the market than in roadside stalls," a local youth commented.
Banda Aceh is like a girl who just put her makeup on. A four-year reconstruction process which involved hundreds of organizations from all over the world has left luxurious buildings and facilities throughout Aceh. Bridges, houses, schools, public health clinics, subdistrict offices, mosques, airport, hospitals, and roads all look shiny-at least on the outside. The lavish physical condition added flavor to the completion of the Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation & Reconstruction Agency's (BRR) mission on April 16. Many other NGOs and donor institutions-both local and foreign-have also completed their missions in Aceh. The world spotlight that shone on Aceh in the post-tsunami period hasfaded.BRR chief, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, breathed a sigh of relief at the completion of his agency's mission. "The government considers that we have done a good job," he told Adi Warsidi from Tempo. In the last four years BRR has implemented various post-disaster recovery projects in Aceh and Nias worth around Rp80 trillion. The funds came from the government, public donations and international aid. According to Kuntoro, BRR has reached 94.18 percent of the targets in the master recovery plan formulated by the National Development Planning Board. After it was dissolved, BRR was replaced by the Aceh Sustainable Reconstruction Agency (BKRA), which is led by the Aceh Governor, Irwandi Yusuf, as ex-officio Chairman.
Until the end of the year, BKRA has been tasked to complete BRR's unfinished works. For example, to ensure the sustainability of the Rp1.3 trillion program which was planned last year. Another task of equal importance is to formulate a master plan for speedy development of Aceh. Iskandar, BKRA's head of daily operations, reminded the public not to put high hopes in his agency. "Our authority is limited," he said. "We only do coordinating activities with various related parties." Local governments and the representative of technical departments from the central government have full authority over the execution of the programs."Our job is to maintain the harmonization," Iskandar explained.
Although generally there have not been any problems, the handover of assets to the local governments still faced a number of obstacles. First is the obscure asset verification process. Two regencies, West Aceh and Southwest Aceh, refused to accept the assets because of the lack of clarity. Ramli M.S., the West Aceh Regent, declined BRR's Rp193 billion for his area."We do not really know what the assets are and what their conditions are," Ramli said. "It is like buying a cat in a sack and we don't want that."In his experience, the condition of the buildings and facilities built by BRR could not be guaranteed 100 percent as fit. The assets often do not meet criteria or are unfit for use. For example, a sea embankment in Ujung Kareung, Meulaboh, does not function properly. There are also buildings with leaking roofs. "Most of the houses of subdistrict heads in West Aceh cannot be used," he said. According to Ramli, the documents detailing BRR's assets should first be verified jointly with the local governments before they are handed over. Such procedure is normally done by the donor organizations and NGOs. "We have requested BRR's project documents for joint verification," Ramli said "But until the end of BRR's term, the request has not been granted."
Iskandar, BKRA head of daily operations, stated that the issue of assets certainly has to be resolved. "A team from the Finance Department will come to evaluate," said Iskandar. After the central authorities have done the verification, the Finance Department will hand over the assets to the local governments. The second issue is the fund. Aceh Deputy Governor, Muhammad Nazar has declared the local authorities' commitment. "We are ready to maintain the assets left by BRR," he pledged. However, the fund has to be requested from the central government. "It is no longer possible to use the fund from the regional budget, Nazar said. So far, the government's response has been good. "But we still do not know how much will be allotted," he said.
The third and main issue is the capacity of the regional bureaucracy. "It's been a public secret that the bureaucracy is not very effective," said Azwar Hasan, head of the Aceh Development Forum, an NGO in the field of microcredit. Many officials only have interest in projects. "Their focus is only on developing, but they forget about maintenance," he lamented. The slow and ambiguous bureaucratic work priority is indeed a national problem. "But, the situation like this is even more cumbersome in Aceh, which has just been freed of conflicts and tsunami," he said. Under such circumstance, it will be hard to maintain the assets left by BRR and donors alike. Facilities are often built without taking into consideration the long-term capability of the locals. For example, many public health clinics or pukskesmas were built in remote villages. "When there were still donors, sending doctors and nurses there was not a problem," Nursiti, a female activist from the Aceh Women's Discussion Center, explained. "Once the donors are gone, how would the villages pay for doctors and buy the medicines?"
Another example is the two public meeting buildings that were built in Banda Aceh. The electricity and cleaning fees are high. In addition, the city administration has to work hard to organize community activities in order to keep the buildings utilized. "I doubt that it can be done," Azwar bemoaned. "Since the beginning, the concept is only to make a building, without involving the community."
-- Mardiyah Chamim, Adi Warsidi