Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The one who slipped through the cracks: Jokowi’s new Defense Minister should make for some glad hearts in the jackboot crowd

Wati as sent me a complete list of Jokowi’s new cabinet ministers, which were announced yesterday.  When I expressed a little bemused surprise that 25% of his picks had been rejected by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for being involved in graft or illegal activities (yay for Jokowi’s activation of the committee; not-so-yay for picking 8 crooks in the first place), Wati responded, “He smart that way, to forward the names to the KPK.  Some of these people are from the coalition party [and had to be nominated]. This way he can "pretend" he is innocent, and that he shouldn’t be blamed by his party since it was KPK who rejected the dubious names. This is the Asian way to stay away from being blamed.”

Here’s one of the rats who escaped the mongoose:  Jokowi’s appointment of retired General Ryamizard Ryacudu as Minister Defense sailed through without a hitch.  And you can guess that the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) was standing by to comment on this. 
"The appointment of a hardliner like Ryamizard Ryacudu tells us that President Widodo is not serious about promoting human rights or reaching out to West Papua," said John M. Miller, Coordinator of ETAN.  Miller added, "While fighting corruption may be a priority for [Jokowi’s] administration, he certainly didn't take into account Ryamizard's well-reported statements on human rights. This speaks volumes about the importance of human rights to Jokowi."
Ryamizard oversaw the implementation of martial law in Aceh, which began in May 2003 and took hundreds of lives. At that time he opposed negotiations, telling Time magazine, "Our job is to destroy GAM's military capability. Issues of justice, religion, autonomy, social welfare, education? Those are not the Indonesian military's problems," In the same interview, he responded to reports of his soldiers executing unarmed children, saying: "If they are armed and fire, they will be shot, because children - and women - can kill, too."
"Ryamizard clarified the army's definition of what makes a person an enemy when speaking of civilians who were unhappy with the state of siege. He indicated that anyone who had such feelings would be defined by the army as 'GAM,' i.e. a member of the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, the Aceh Freedom Movement.” –Allan Nairn

"'People who dislike the military emergency in Aceh are GAM members,'" Gen. Ryamizard said, 'So if they have the same voice as GAM members, this will mean that they are the younger brothers of the separatist movement.'  As Amnesty International reported, “This categorization was hugely significant since the official approach to GAM was: "hunt them down and exterminate them," in the words of the armed forces commander Gen. Endriartono in May of 2003.
Can you see now why for some Indonesian military officials, the 2004 tsunami was the best thing that ever happened to them?
Ryamizard is close to former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who heads Widodo's political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). When Ryamizard was Kostrad commander he mobilized troops in central Jakarta on July 22, 2001 as parliament was preparing to impeach President Wahid (1999-2001) on what many believe were trumped up charges, inspired by Wahid's reforms and his apologies for human rights violations committed by the military in Aceh, West Papua and Timor-Leste. In 2004, during the last days of her administration, Megawati nominated Ryamizard as chief of the armed forces. (Her successor, President Yudhoyono, denied him the promotion.)
Well, look who’s smiling now.
So much for any hope of dealing with any of the conflict resolution issues that still dominate the social and economic landscape of rural Aceh.

General Thug in his GAM-stomping youth

Monday, October 27, 2014

It’s Open Season on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar . . . again

In this June 25 2014 file photo, Rohingya refugees gather to receive medicine at Dar Paing village clinic, north of Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. A growing sense of desperation is fueling a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar, with at least 8,000 members of the long-persecuted minority fleeing by boat in the last two weeks, according to residents and a leading expert. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

The world press woke up a bit from its nap on the Myanmar borders, and began reporting a couple of weeks ago on the recent surge in Muslims (predominantly Rohingya) fleeing persecution in Myanmar.  In the October 24th AP article Number of Rohingya Fleeing Myanmar Tops 100,000, it is not reported why there is a sudden increase, and the report also states that “It was not immediately clear where the newest arrivals were landing.”

Chris Lewa, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Arakan Project, said there has been a huge surge since Oct. 15, with an average of 900 people per day piling into cargo ships parked off Rakhine state.

 To give you an idea of the area we’re talking about, here’s a map of Myanmar, with Aceh province (Sumatra) to the south. (Medan is just south of the border of Aceh province.)

See Yangon?  Immediately to the west and up the coast is the Rakhine State, home to the majority of Rohingya in the country.  This is why many of them choose to flee by boat.
They cross the Andaman sea and travel about 1,000 miles to either the shores of Thailand, which is extremely close to the border of Myanmar and quite dangerous, or they continue on another 100 miles to Aceh Timur, on the north shore above Medan on that little lump. Aceh is the only place that has accepted Rohingya refugees unequivocally; still in 2009 when I went with JMD to set up and run the refugee camp there, life was very, very hard. The people of East Aceh themselves do not have enough to eat, and supplying extra food, clothes and medical supplies was a challenge  But I witnessed incredible examples of kindness as community members shared whatever they had with these men and boys.

The welcome is quite different for those landing in Thailand, “where passengers often are brought to jungle camps, facing extortion and beatings until relatives come up with enough money to win their release.”

So I am wondering if any of the recent 10,000 refugees have once again landed in Aceh. I will have to find out.

To recap briefly this sad and unbelievable story:
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 50 million that only recently emerged from half a century of military rule, has an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya. Though many of their families arrived from neighboring Bangladesh generations ago, almost all have been denied citizenship. In the last two years, attacks by Buddhist mobs have left hundreds dead and 140,000 trapped in camps, where they live without access, or the right, to adequate health care, education or jobs.

Ms Lewa reported that “there seems to be a growing sense of desperation this year, with numbers nearly double from the same period in 2013. . . . The United Nations has labeled the Rohingya one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the world."

The treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar has always been, as I’ve reported, horrendous.  I began to wonder what recently has contributed to this “growing sense of desperation.”

The Week magazine, a synthesis of articles from the world’s best media outlets, reported on last week’s visit by Indian Prime Minister Modi to Washington.  While many papers gushed over Modi’s ability to “wow the Indian American audience” and have such an apparently cordial relationship with president Obama, other papers reminded readers of Modi’s “sickening” human rights abuses against Muslims and his promotion of Hindu nationalism, which  is "oppressive to India's many religious minorities." They noted that Obama chooses to ignore this leader’s human rights record because he “sees India as nothing more than a big-business opportunity."

I thought that sounded eerily similar to Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi, with her charm and promises of equality while at the same time ignoring further Rohingya abuses.  (see the May 2014 CNN article by Tim Hume, Aung San Suu Kyi's 'silence' on the Rohingya: Has 'The Lady' lost her voice? )

So the US (and other nations) won't do anything about the Rohingya because perhaps Myanmar is another "big-business opportunity." 

I hate to say this but I am pretty sure that the champagne corks popped in Myanmar when the Islamic State began its bloody terror campaigns In Iraq and Syria. Possibly ISIL's vilification on the world stage contributed to increasing persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar.  That country knows that no one will come to the aid of the Rohingya when everyone is so furious with and horrified by a Muslim group, however far removed from that faux-ideology the Rohingya may be.

It’s not a great time to be a Muslim anywhere. . . and things for the Rohingya just got a whole lot worse.  If that’s even possible.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Family Farming was World Food Day’s focus . . . Really???? Someone didn't get the message . . .

October 16th was World Food Day.


From FAO’s web page (the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization):

The 2014 World Food Day theme - Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth” - has been chosen to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers. It focuses world attention on the significant role of family farming in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development, in particular in rural areas.
The UN General Assembly has designated 2014 “International Year of Family Farming.” This is a strong signal that the international community recognizes the important contribution of family farmers to world food security.

So let us send a big ol’ raspberry to those Palm Oil rapscallions destroying thousands of acres of protected forest –and eliminating local subsistence family farming in Indonesia:
·       Bumitama
·       Astra Agro Lestari Terbuk
·       PT Bakrie (owned by former Presidential candidate and –ulp!--Jokowi supporter)
·       Cargill
·       Wilmar International
·       Musim Mas
·       Triputra Agro
·       Persada, and
·       PT Kallista Alam, the Governor’s pal

Support your local farms . . . and the local farmers of  Aceh Timur!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Interlude, with Cocoa Farmers and short invective on genetically modified seeds

 Here’s one of JMD’s star cocoa farmers at a grafting training.

The next grafting training is coming up—this time: bud grafting. Very specialized. Good grafters are highly sought-after, anywhere in the world.

I never knew how important grafting is to the success of a healthy farm and a plentiful harvest. One of the things you have to watch out for, though, is that some cloned/genetically altered varieties (of anything) need absolute optimum conditions to grow, and Aceh’s conditions, while geographically swell, are anything but optimum when you consider drought, floods, pests, monkeys (argh!  monkeys!) fungus, overgrown shade trees . . . the list does on.  Did I mention monkeys?

Anyway, the trick for the farmers will be to bring their farms up to healthy “mutt” status, meaning they are not just dependent on the cloned varieties for rootstock or grafts, because that’s just another type of dependence—on the Duponts and Monsantos of the world.

An interesting article in November’s Mother Jones magazine—“Demonstration Plot”— traces the rise of 4-H youth groups in Africa and how, because they are funded by major chemical and seed producers, they act as “free advertising for products that will put their families’ farms out of business.” Genetically superior seeds make a huge difference in production, which works well in the short term, but eventually, in order to compete with everyone else who is now producing the same amount, the farmer must continue to purchase these seeds (and the attendant non-organic chemicals and pesticides and materials needed to optimize the crop). As regions transition from subsistence farming to industrial crop production (which is what agribusinesses want) foreign interests begin to control more and more of the farmland.  Agribusiness is helped by large donors such as USAID, states the article, whose Feed the Future Program hopes to “increase agricultural business investments in priority countries.”  And so, between 2010 and 2014, corporations like Walmart and Pepsi have received $7billion to “partner with farmers in the developing world.”

Kind of makes palm oil in the back yard sound tame, don’t it?

I mention this because reporting on EDFF was getting a little heavy, and just did not warrant any photos, and I thought we needed a photo.

But tomorrow I will tell you about what we finally did with all this database and AAA/Keumang information that I've been going on about for weeks, and my trip (which I’d mentioned in June) to the Clinton Foundation (sort of) to see if Bill Clinton, who’d just visited Aceh in April, been given the grand, whitewashed tour and pronounced everything “fine,” might be interested in a lot of hard evidence to the contrary. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Part VII: we trace the phantom databases to their crypts in the ether, and realize that there is no centralized repository of any reconstruction project. What fun!

Although I dearly love yellow journalism and innuendo, I also love getting truthfully to the bottom of things.  So after I wrote the last post I wondered, maybe I am just a stinky researcher.  Maybe the RAN database is operating happily somewhere and I’m just too thick to figure out how to access it.

So I called Synergy and asked ‘em.

The very nice tech, who remembered the project though he was not with the company then, confirmed my fears: when BRR (Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi --Agency for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias) disbanded in 2009 and transferred whatever administrative documents they had to Bappenas  (Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Nasional --National Development Planning Agency Republic of Indonesia), Bappenas let the system lapse.  Since part of the fee included Synergy’s web hosting services (a monthly cost) Bappenas never paid the fee, and all the data went into the ether.

I asked if somehow, someone could have downloaded it to another medium. The Synergy tech said that it was possible that a hard copy was made (a bagillion pages) but he was doubtful.  The system was designed to be able to shift over to another platform, so possible, he suggested, someone might have done that. There was one tech at Bappenas who the tech thought might have done something with the database, and he gave me a name, and I’ll look him up . . . but I don’t have high hopes that after 10 years he is still there.  Because we do not see any vestige of this database anywhere.

The tech comforted me by saying that Synergy designs a lot of databases for countries that do the same thing that Aceh did: use the system while the system administrators are there, but fail to have a universal buy-in to the system as a permanent part of government planning, and fail to allocate resources towards its maintenance and training of IT personnel.  Remember I said I didn’t know if Maldives was still using RAN?  Well, it’s not.  The only country is Sri Lanka, and they have adapted it to do national budget tracking and it is quite useful.  I told Simon that perhaps Indonesia’s pragmatic and youthful new president Jokowi might like to hear that BRR had purchased a VERY expensive database for Aceh that was no longer being used and maybe he could have it tweaked to do national economic development planning . . . and Simon practically squeaked with joy.
At my next luncheon with him and the First Lady I’ll be sure to bring that up.

But seriously, BRR/World Bank paid for the development of this custom-made-for-Aceh database, and its “shell” has not been discarded.  It’s just waiting at Synergy for someone to use it.

But do not think that BRR stopped at one database, no siree.

Little Merry Sunshine, so they have named me, and so I believed that somewhere was information regarding the AAA/Keumang project (remember them?  The thing that got us started?) so that we could find out exactly what activities were performed in the field, and write a proposal to a donor asking for funds to complete a post-project evaluation.

(Okay, I’ll admit that I had a pretty good idea of what this evaluation would show—bupkus—but I think it is important for the donor (and recipient) community in Aceh—and anywhere else tons of aid is going these days—to see that unless you hold agencies and individuals accountable for their promises, you just throw money away and end up with a vast quantity of nothing in an area which on paper says received overwhelming support for thousands of people.  So when they a) ask for more or b) malign the government for not keeping promises, the administrative response is “ungrateful hordes.”  When it should be “My god that agency just ripped us off for $6 million and 4,000 people are now starving and really mad at us.”)

Sorry.  Where was I?
Oh, right.
Well, I came across a document that heralded another love-child of BRR and World Bank, and it was called KNOW, or the BRR Knowledge Center, and it was funded in 2008, one year before BRR disintegrated and prior to RAN being dismembered. Here’s how it’s described on BRR's Wikipedia page:

The BRR Knowledge Centre (KNOW) is dedicated to the preservation of data and management of information related to the rehabilitation and reconstruction programme in Aceh and Nias (2005-09). KNOW was established by BRR in June 2008 through support from the Multi Donor Fund and in partnership with UNDP. Its principle activities include the collection, cataloging and classification of documents and other media formats and to enable this information to be accessed for research and reference purposes.

There is no longer a working link to this site.  Former BRR officials admitted to JMD staff that it was too complicated for anyone left in Aceh to manage.  And it was a piece of cake compared to RAN.  
 So: two down . . .

KNOW and RAN were born, and died, before EDFF.  So it stands to reason that unless there was yet another database created, all the EDFF funds ($50 million) would have no tracking mechanism other than what their respective implementing agencies kept at their own HQs.

I contacted a former colleague who worked with BRR and refers to himself as “the only person who knew anything that came close to the whole story of reconstruction.” He reported having no knowledge of either KNOW or RAN and “didn’t much pay attention” to what went on after BRR closed.  Of course he didn’t.  Like everyone else, he’d already collected his money and gone home.  Who cared if anything actually worked or was sustainable?

We wrote back and forth several times.  After he saw I wasn’t going to go away and didn’t really think he was much of an expert if he didn’t even know about BRR’s tracking systems, he changed his tune and started telling me he felt my pain, and was quite disillusioned himself at the end.
My response:
“ . . . It is very difficult to tell, 10 years later, which reconstruction efforts were truly useful and sustainable.  There is a 104-page BRR document with which I¹m sure you¹re familiar: 10 Management Lessons for Host Governments Coordinating Post-disaster Reconstruction, but it¹s an overview, not an objective database.
   “Many people at BBF and JMD have over the past 3 ­4 years tried to get information from former and current reps of the UN, WB, USAID, DAI, and several of the larger implementing partners regarding large livelihoods and infrastructure projects funded through MDF and later through EDFF. We have also investigated road reconstruction projects in the eastern part of Aceh with an eye towards understanding which roads got built or repaired, and which did not, and why.  Which of course leads to the depressing paradox of the end of the conflict signaling a commercial and environmental destruction free-for-all involving foreign interests complicit with government officials in the name of "economic development."  But you know all this.
    “What tiny JMD wants is to be able to matter, in the future, with respect to providing needs-driven rather than donor-driven development. And what BBF, now JMD's administrative donor, wants to do is illuminate the failure of the "large system" to address anything but the most basic of emergency response needs, choosing instead to focus on what the large NGOs could dream up in multi million-dollar "sustainable development" proposals that robbed the local NGOs of their ability to retain employees, compete for funding, or participate collectively in the recovery of their own province. 
   “We're a little vexed, you see.
   “But we were hoping you could shed some light on the trajectory of the reconstruction funds from extremely useful and lifesaving earlier good works to a series of projects with dubious ability to be sustainable and with no consideration for the conflict-affected areas that BRR promised to include in the MDF disbursement.

The silence, I tell you, was deafening.

But wait!
Did I say that was the last of the databases???
Surely not!

We are forgetting the first database, the granddaddy of all repositories, started in 2005 and the one, apparently, that RAN and KNOW thought they could out-do: “e-Aceh!”

Bappenas, those lords of information technology, launched e-Aceh in May of 2005, claiming that In response to the need of transparency and effective coordination” e-Aceh “is intended to be an information tool for everyone involved in the rapid and coordinated recovery process.” It is  the unitary information sharing portal” designed to “strengthen the fiduciary framework surrounding the implementation of the [Aceh recovery strategy] and to support the rapid & coordinated multi-actor recovery.” Ulp.

And if that weren’t enough, “The information available in e-Aceh includes: rehabilitation & reconstruction planning & public consultation; program, projects & activity implementation; procurement information; private funds tracking; sectoral information; results-orientated monitoring & evaluation; situation reports; complaints handling &monitoring; job & volunteer opportunities.”

They list e-Aceh’s website. Go ahead and click on it.  If you like Chinese smut.

So: quick recap: 2005: e-Aceh developed and dropped like hot potato, 2006 RAN developed, 2008 KNOW developed, 2008 KNOW dies, 2009 RAN plug pulled.

Now that we’ve established that there is no documentation confirming that any of the billions of dollars in projects ever was satisfactorily completed, we will turn to the EDFF—the last $50 million—and how Bappenas, Bappeda, and AAA/Keumang fit into a bizarre Reconstruction Time Warp.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Part VI:EDFF, the Multi-Donor Fund, and the case of the vanishing databases

When I first started doing projects in Aceh in 2005, all of us (the NGOs, the community groups, everyone) were told that we had to enter all our programmatic and financial information on a database called RAN. 
As you remember, BRR (Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency of Aceh and Nias) was established to coordinate the recovery program and to jointly administer the reconstruction funds ($7 billion) with World Bank acting as fiduciary, through its Multi-Donor Trust Fund program. BRR’s mission was “to restore livelihoods and strengthen communities in Aceh and Nias by designing and overseeing a coordinated, community-driven reconstruction and development program implemented according to the highest professional standards.”

One of the things BRR (or rather, its well-paid international consultants) did very, very well was create impressive hundrd-page documents outlining the proojects, heralding their successes, and making even their failures (“lessons learned”) sound positive and hopeful. (their 16-book, 3,200 "BRR Books" series is a marvel.) One of the shorter documents  at 23 pages was a Power Point Presentation on the RAN Database.
Here is what BRR said about it:
What is the RAN Database?
•RAN Database is a system for collecting, tracking, analyzing and displaying project  and funding information.
Who will use it?
•NGOs, donors, BRR, local government, media and the public will have access to RAN Database and to paper based reports.
How will RAN Database benefit the reconstruction effort?
•RAN Database will provide up to date, transparent and accountable information on  the recovery process in Aceh and Nias.
•RAN Database will be used by BRR to coordinate more effectively, pinpoint gaps
and overlaps in the recovery process and resolve bottlenecks and issues.
•RAN Database will enable all organisations to plan and coordinate their projects with
other actors working in the same sectors and locations.

Sounds great!! 
But let me tell you, even in its heyday, with IT personnel at their battle stations, and money flowing like wine, none of us could wrestle this multi-tentacled monster to the ground.   Still, the developer (Synergy) touted it as a godsend: “The RAN Database won the Innovative Government Technology Award in the Information Management category at the 2008 FutureGov Summit. RAND was . . . recognised as an innovative model of information management that has successfully promoted improvement in public services, modernisation of government administration and efficiency of public sector management.” 

And just as soon as it appeared, with a halo round its head, it disappeared.
Well, that's not entirely true; the website still exists, with a helpful list of 500+ recipient agencies.  But every link is broken and no one is maintaining the site.[AM_MonoFrame]&now=1413834974744&sessionid=141383497335656&clickedModelId=*54# 

I do have to say, however, that its Help section and instructions for using the thing, were it live, are quit extensive, so I am sure that the database itself exists.
Just not in Aceh.
It has no backup that anyoe knows of.
It stopped being used after 2 years.
First and foremost, because of the same bloody thing that I have been harping about in this space for over 5 years: no one ever thought, with all their money and all their wonderful ideas, to teach Acehnese survivors how to implement the projects that were supposed to “save” them.
So when the highly paid IT people left, no one knew the system, including government employees, BRR, Bappenas, Bappeda, World Bank’s PMU, etc.
I wish I could think that this was just a horrible oversight.
But I can’t.
Those in charge simply did not care about sustainability.  They operated a reconstruction program in recovery mode, and because of that, the province has neither recovered nor been reconstructed.

But I digress.

The BRR document goes on to say that Within the RAN Database, Synergy developed a number of other systems to build the capacity of the Government to track tsunami reconstruction and enhance the management of the work-flow processes. These included a Donor/Partner Profiles Module and a Concept Note Submission and Approval Module for organizing the bottom-up and top-down budget planning process of the reconstruction. The Concept Notes online submission and approval process involved the entire NGO community in sharing data on their planned activities for better coordination.  
 The RAN has become the central coordinating database for Tsunami recovery data in Indonesia, tracking 1700 projects and a total of USD 3.7 billion in commitments.  

And nobody bothered to use it or maintain it .

“Synergy worked with the government of Indonesia to define Sector specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for measuring progress of reconstruction at various levels including the project level and overall sector level.”

If these KSI’s existed in document form, they are in the wind now.

“RAN provides a tool to analyze trends of KPIs against baseline and target values, as well as financial and other project data. The RAN was also integrated with the Regional DAD that includes information from other Tsunami affected countries including Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. “

Could be.  Haven’t chatted with  Maldives yet. But over the past year when I have quizzed former colleagues working with both NGOs and directly with the Indonesian government regarding this and other possible locations about programmatic information concerning any of the MDF/EDFF projects, no one has mentioned this database as being an information archive .  It appears to have been a multi-million dollar boondoggle from right out of the gate, global prizes notwithstanding.  Don't get me wrong--I think Synergy developed a bang-up program.  I don't know whether it was charged with teaching anyone to use it, however.  Someone kind of fell down on the job on that one.

So counting on RAN as being the receptacle of any further information on AAA’s cocoa improvement project, or Keumang’s community development/participatory rural appraisal work in the five districts, was pretty much out of the question.

Happily (in a surreal, mildly hysterical John Waters sort of way), EDFF, MDF and the World Bank had not run out of money to spend on phantom databases.  I was next introduced to something called KNOW--the kinder, gentler reconstruction database.

Since there are no appropriate photos to accompany this post (unless photos of me crying into a big handkerchief and gnashing my teeth in frustration will do), I’ll stop here.  More tomorrow!

RAN Database gush-fest: