Global Policy Forum

For Some NGOs, Another Disaster Means


By Adisti Sukma Sawitri

Jakarta Post
August 24, 2006

NGO activists are treating reconstruction projects as "battlefields" to compete for donor funding and misuse it for their own benefit, leaving locals to fend for themselves, a top UN officer says. "It is common for me to see them benefit from disaster recovery projects: Another project, another new flashy car for each of them," the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Puji Pujiono, said Wednesday in his keynote speech at a disaster management workshop for activists in Depok, West Java.

Although he said he believed only some activists were corrupt, he urged all NGOs in Indonesia to improve their professionalism or lose the trust of donors. Puji refused to name specific NGOs or reveal the number of local and foreign activists who had embezzled disaster funds, saying he could not be sure whether they were currently involved in disaster areas in Aceh, Nias, Yogyakarta, and Central Java. "There are so many of them. Each time a disaster happens, many people come immediately, claiming they want to help local people. We (the UN) can't do anything about this because only the government has the authority to control these NGOs," he said.

The public has grown increasingly suspicious of graft among both local and international non-profits. These misgivings are stimulated by the disorganized delivery of services in disaster areas. Some areas have made great progress toward recovery, while others are getting little or no support. Complaints of poorly managed NGO projects first came from the head of the Aceh and Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR), Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who was disappointed when some international NGOs failed to achieve their targets for housing construction in the region last March.

The most recent case involved two domestic NGOs, which were reported to the police for graft. The coordinator of Indonesia's NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Advocacy, Rafendi Djamin, said international NGOs were more prone to embezzlement because they were "untouchable" under the country's Criminal Code. "BRR is the only agency that has some authority over them because it issues work permits for them," he said. He said he hoped that with the recent ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption, the government would show more concern about such issues.

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