Fri, 18 Jul 2003

USAID committed to democratization in RI: Envoy

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja The Jakarta Post Jakarta

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) renewed its commitment on Thursday to support the democratization process in Indonesia, especially ahead of the 2004 elections.

The USAID assistant administrator of the Bureau for Asia and the Near East, Wendy J. Chamberlin, said the democratization process remained a priority for the agency

"It is quite natural that we work together in the area of counterterrorism, but we are just as committed in strengthening democracy in Indonesia," Chamberlin told The Jakarta Post here on Thursday.

"The way for you to counter terrorism is by building a strong and transparent government and democratic society," she said.

Several non-governmental organizations here had complained about receiving less financial aid from USAID following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

They accused the United States of paying too much attention to the antiterrorism drive and forgetting about democracy in Indonesia.

Chamberlin, however, refuted the claim, saying democracy had taken root in Indonesia slowly.

Earlier this week, Chamberlin signed an assistance agreement worth US$24 million for the 2004 elections, a slight decrease from the $30 million for the 1999 elections.

The funds were part of $162 million provided yearly for Indonesia, which, according to Chamberlin, was the largest amount given to countries in Southeast Asia.

The aid will be used to support capacity building for political parties, the General Elections Commission (KPU) and the House of Representative.

USAID mission director in Indonesia William M. Frej said the decreased assistance was due to the fact that Indonesia had shown great improvement in dealing with elections.

"The real reason is the capacity of Indonesians has dramatically increased; Indonesia is now capable of organizing a free and fair election," Frej said.

"We continue to provide the support because it is a much larger election and many persons will be involved in the procedures," he remarked.

Frej noted that in 1999, the U.S. provided a larger amount because the election was a substantial move for the country, after the reform movement kicked off in 1998.

"Now, Indonesians firmly believe they have a stronger position in moving along with the 2004 election," Frej stressed.

The agency will also focus on supporting independent monitoring teams to ensure a free and fair election in 2004.

Frej said there would be thousands of Indonesians involved in monitoring the elections.