You know, I really don’t think I could stomach a career on the tell-all circuit. I’d always be afraid of missing some salient point, some bit of exonerating information that would absolve everyone of the dirty underhanded deeds I thought they were getting away with.
And so when we first started communicating with AAA and trying to find out exactly where all that money went, we were pretty thorough. After a while, when my first contact stopped returning emails, I called AAA’s US offices, several times. Spoke with people “who were familiar with that project.” Of course, AAA no longer works in Indonesia, and none of the "directors" who were going to "get right back in touch" never did. Their Indonesia "desk" is closed and they don’t even mention it, or their $6.7 million project on their website.
Why, it’s almost as if it never existed.
As I mentioned yesterday, even though everyone we talked to in the district swore up and down that nothing ever came of that project and that no one got any services or materials, I did not just fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I am pretty sure that something, somewhere, went on. Like that training in Pidie that everyone thought the government sponsored. Well, a good agency would coordinate the project so that the government, or a local source, could take credit for it, in order to reinforce to a community that its elected officials were working for it and that people could place their trust in local institutions.
However, I am not inclined to be so magnanimous wen it comes to all the buildings that were not constructed, the vehicles (all seven of ‘em) that either were never purchased or disappeared, the trainings that, if given, went in one ear and out the other, or the reports of, after spending $6.7 million (sorry to keep repeating that; I can’t seem to get it out of my head) regarding how much production and prices improved for the supposedly 2,000 farmers the project assisted.
(I know this isn’t fair, but if they’d just given each of those farmers about $3,300 apiece—or the equivalent of 8 months’ very good salary-- everyone would have been thrilled.)
One of JMD’s staff members had a friend who used to work at the PMU of World Bank when the EDFF component was being administered. He told us that there were no final monitoring reports of the project . . . or for most of the projects for that matter, but specifically not for this one. He also said (and this was verified by several other NGO directors in the region) that the agency Keumang had been blacklisted by the World Bank, meaning they’d never eat lunch in that town again. AAA, to its credit (or maybe not) never mentioned to us or in the final report that Keumang was in any way to blame for any of the activities not being completed. I suspect that this is because AAA was not directly involved at all in the project; it collected its administrative fee and hoped that Keumang would take care of everything else.
One could argue that this is why donor agencies did not deal directly with Acehnese NGOs to begin with. But Keumang was a subcontractor. I have no idea what percentage of the $6.7million it specifically received and what percentage remained under AAA’s administrative control. No one is talking. No one, actually, is even in the room anymore.
I’ve written to a reporter at AP—the representative from the Clinton Global Initiative I met with told me that journalists can extract information from entities that close like clams when they see me, or any other "civilian" coming.
Anyway, JMD is ever Little Merry Sunshine, and saw this as an opportunity to do what it does really well: field investigation. Surely, monitoring and evaluation are an incredibly important part of the whole reconstruction process. World Bank would be sitting up nights fretting over its missing post-implementation narrative.
So we wrote AAA first, commending them for all their hard work, acknowledging that a project of this magnitude must have been very difficult to manage (I can be quite courteous actually), and telling them of our fabulous idea.
Parts of the letter went like this:
We are therefore wondering what are your thoughts regarding JMD’s search for additional funding to complete the final monitoring and evaluation portion of your project.
Obviously the evaluation would not cover all the aspects of the project that were initially outlines; the report lists in detail those portions of the project that were curtailed or eliminated. The continued implementation of good cultivation and harvesting practices, however, combined with an assessment of the success and continuation of the co-operatives as established mechanisms for increased production and economic growth, could be addressed via an instrument created by JMD. We believe that the information gathered from this evaluation would be of great importance to the future success of smallholders who wish to take a place at the commodities table.
Would it be possible for JMD to work off the lessons and activities of your completed project and develop/implement an evaluation mechanism that would both objectively measure the success of the activities performed and provide a comprehensive blueprint for future cocoa improvement initiatives in Aceh?
And as I said, the silence was deafening.
Then JMD went back to World Bank to see who to contact regarding suggesting this type of post-project report.
What we found next shocked even us.
There weren’t any on record.