Sat, 12 Mar 2005

Aceh reconstruction program to begin March 26

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post/Medan

The rehabilitation and reconstruction programs in Aceh were set to commence on March 26, a top government official said on Thursday.

However, the government is still trying to complete the crucial blueprint on the programs and trying to establish an implementing body responsible for the reconstruction and rehabilitation programs, said Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Alwi Shihab.

The blueprint is supposed to be completed soon and set to be handed to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for approval by March 15.

Alwi also said that the implementing agency would be autonomous. The government has recently promised to accommodate the demands of the Acehnese in its establishment.

The coordinating minister, who is in charge of the tsunami relief and reconstruction, explained that the government was still studying requests from various groups, including the Acehnese, who have demanded that the agency be staffed with native Acehnese. An executive board for the agency will be appointed in the near future. "We hope the body can be set up soon, so that the rehabilitation process can start on March 26. We already know the zones that will be reconstructed. The housing barracks, built by the government, are just temporary," Alwi told The Jakarta Post on Thursday, after attending the Lake Toba Summit opening ceremony in Medan.

Despite the explanation by Alwi, it was still unclear whether the body would be similar to the special authority body (BOK) for Aceh rehabilitation and reconstruction, which the government earlier planned to establish.

The BOK proposal was dropped due to opposition from many groups. Non-governmental organization activists and most Acehnese rejected the BOK, because it was unclear in terms of mechanisms and division of labor.

Meanwhile, in response to the demand that Acehnese civilians be involved in the reconstruction and rehabilitation programs, particularly in designing the blueprint, Alwi said that the government had discussed it with some people over the past week and had invited those who wanted to participate in the program.

Alwi also explained that the government hoped that local contractors could rise to the occasion in rebuilding Aceh.

"It depends on their capabilities. But we will facilitate them so that their participation materializes," he stated, without elaborating.

He explained that the first priority during the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase would be building residential houses, because hundreds of thousands of tsunami survivors were in dire need of proper shelter.

The government said it was planning to build permanent homes for the survivors, to replace the barracks and tent camps they live in now.

Alwi said his office had not specified the length of time needed for the program, nor the number of permanent houses to be built as it was dependent on the amount of money.

An official with the National Development Planning Board's Regional Autonomy Affairs, Tatag Wiranto, said recently in Medan that between Rp 40 trillion (US$4.4 billion) and Rp 45 trillion was needed for the program over a period of five years.

That amount includes the rebuilding of infrastructure and homes for tsunami survivors, government offices, commercial buildings and other needs in Aceh.