Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bll Clinton's Visit to Aceh: unfortunately, he saw far less than half the picture

Lots of media outlets covered President Clinton’s visit to Aceh last Sunday.  Since we were posting abut the elections, I didn’t chime in.
But now, the coast, as they say, is clear.

Let me just start by saying I’ll be visiting the offices of the Clinton Global Initiative in August to speak to one of the officers there about some information that either wasn’t given to President Clinton during his visit, wasn’t reported on, or both. [the quotes below are taken from the Wall Street Journal and the Jakarta Post.]

I know that the CGI and the Clinton Foundation are not in the business of badmouthing recovery efforts and humanitarian initiatives.  So there couldn’t have been an article coming out of their office that did anything but heap praise upon Aceh’s progress in the 10 years since the tsunami.
But seriously.  Who are we kidding?

Apart from the initial medial and shelter crisis tat was addressed admirably, I have yet to hear of one project--whether it be road reconstruction, airport/port rebuilding, housing projects, or my favorite—“sustainable livelihoods—“ that has been successfully taken over and maintained by wither the Acehnese/Indonesian government or local organization. 

As the Post reported, President Clinton “wanted to see the level of recovery and development that has been achieved during the post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction process.”  [Aceh was hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004.] “Clinton has visited Aceh several times in the past. The founder of the Clinton Foundation was at one time the United Nation’s special envoy for tsunami relief, who raised money for tsunami victims under the administration of former president George W. Bush.”

Clinton visited several sites around greater Banda Aceh/Aceh Besar, which while admirable for any foreign dignitary, doesn’t really tell the story of the rest of the province. He met with Aceh Governor Zaini Abdulah and Nanggroe Aceh customary leader Malik Mahmud Al Haytar.

“During his tour, Clinton was also accompanied by the head of the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4), Kuntoro Mangkusubroto.”  And where have we heard that name before?   Yes, you guessed it, Pak Kuntoro, director of BRR, the agency developed to oversee the reconstruction process and after an admirable start became so horribly mismanaged that it closed with no records, no database of projects, an not a soul left to confirm where any of the money went.
Any of it.

“Clinton praised the well-coordinated reconstruction efforts in Aceh.
‘This disaster united the international community and non-governmental organizations in cooperation to help the reconstruction of Aceh,’ he said.”

And he came to this conclusion how???

See, that’s the problem.  If there is no one here refuting those claims, if there are no local NGOs or local media left to talk about the EDFF and multi-donor fund process, if there is no one from the World Bank who is going to admit that well, yes, we kind of lost track of the money, or rather we tracked it on paper but never went to the field to view the projects that the multi-donor fund was supposed to implement, or if we did see the projects we didn’t ask local people if they had wanted the projects in the first place, and we certainly have no idea if anything is still standing now.” Because it’s a big, rugged, spooky province, full of bad roads and impenetrable jungle and furious separatists promised the world but given nothing, and it’s just as easy to say “Oh, I’m sure the reconstruction went well.” Or to read a press brief by one of the multinational NGOs who made a fortune out of this disaster.  No one knows what local NGOs think about the effort . . . because over 90% were bankrupted by the reconstruction money.

So I’m wondering: exactly why do I want to set President Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative straight?  Will it do anyone anywhere any good to know that a significant portion of the world’s largesse 10 years ago never made it to the people who needed it most?  It will only sour us to making these donations when disaster strikes, and I certainly don’t want that.  What I would like, though, is for there to be an honest oversight of the funds and the projects, and that someone, somewhere, has a real idea of what sustainability means.  And it doesn’t mean spending hundreds of millions fixing a road and then letting it fall apart.  It doesn’t mean putting a $6 million livelihood project on paper and then never checking to see if he implementer actually followed through.  It doesn’t mean getting $3 million for a project to train ex-combatants to be forest rangers and expect them to go back into their communities and arrest friends and family members.

I think President Clinton and the Clinton Foundation can make a huge difference in Aceh, especially with Jokowi as president.  But both of them need to start from an accurate and truthful picture of what happened to all that money, and where to go from here.

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