Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Acehnese barracks

The letter by Peter Droege from Australia (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 24) raises a number of good points. I have just returned from Aceh after staying in a refugee camp at Lhoknga for a few nights that was adequate but not easy for everyone to live in.

I looked at the barrack-type wooden homes being built down the road and was not at all impressed -- in fact I was horrified. Here the problem is what to do with the homeless in the medium/long term when you have about 400,000 refugees. The boxes (and I'll call them that) were about 13 meters by 40 meters long and each intended to house about 100 people. What amazed me were the prices being bantered about as to the cost of these 20 bedroom rabbit hutches.

I heard Rp 450 million for one large barrack and Rp 350 million for smaller units, and yet in the newspaper some days ago the figure mentioned was Rp 200 million. Apparently the timber price from Medan has doubled from Rp 1.5 million to Rp 3 million per cubic meter, thus doubling the initial price.

My word, how convenient that must be for the many contractors fighting over the right to build them. Rental property in Banda Aceh has gone through the roof and therefore local people cannot possibly afford such prices. Are we about to see the donated money slide away to the already rich and greedy?

With regard to the barracks, many of the refugees said they would prefer to live in tents, although some did not. The question is, why have prices gone up so drastically in an area that is so desperate for help? Apparently, there are just over 800 barracks to be built and so just work out what the overall cost will be -- is that Rp 320 billion (US$350 million). One contractor said you must also take into account what you must pay on the road -- surely this still does not apply? I wonder what the real price is for such wooden box-like accommodation and whether President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono knows about this scam -- for that is what it sounds like.

DAVID WALLIS Medan, North Sumatra