Closure, now billions for the rebirth
17 January 2005
The rebirth of Aceh, the region worst hit by the tsunami and where more than two-thirds of the tragedy's 168,000 victims were killed, starts today in earnest.
Some of the world's biggest construction firms and financiers are in Jakarta to begin bidding for $US1.5 billion ($1.97 billion) of reconstruction projects that will bring the Indonesian province back to life.
Successful bidders will rebuild the province's shattered infrastructure, including roads, ports and bridges, all of it to be done this year.
Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is the driving force behind the auction, is emphasising that speed is essential. Aceh was closest to the earthquake that caused the tsunami and bore the brunt of the tragedy. The region's capital, Banda Aceh, was almost flattened.
The auction marks a new stage in the aid effort for the tsunami countries and follows a minute of silence held by Australians yesterday for victims of the disaster at home and in the region.
The ceremonies ranged from simple gatherings on beachheads to large remembrance services in churches. In Sydney the Prime Minister, John Howard, led a service at St Andrew's Church, and at Bondi Beach surfers formed a circle in the water in respect.
In Banda Aceh the hundreds of Australian workers charged with clearing the debris in the city laid down their shovels and bowed their heads.
Indonesia yesterday withdrew its demands for foreign troops to leave Aceh by March 26.
After a meeting with the US Deputy Defence Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, the Defence Minister, Juwono Sudarsono, said the date was the target deadline the Indonesian Government had set itself to take over the burden of the relief effort. "We would like to emphasise that March 26 is not a deadline for involvement of foreign military personnel in the relief effort."
Indonesia's Vice-President, Jusuf Kalla, said last week that the sooner foreign troops were out the better. With fears of disease escalating in Aceh, it was felt that the demand would hurt the aid effort and backfire on Indonesia.
Dr Yudhoyono had originally planned the auction as a business conference to promote an ambitious wish-list of 91 infrastructure projects, worth $US22 billion spread around Indonesia, but the tsunami has changed its character and urgency.
An extra $US1.5 billion of projects for Aceh funded by donor aid was added to the agenda late last week, and the number of delegates has risen from 500 to 650.
In an effort to remove any whiff of corruption, long a problem in Indonesia, the auction will take place under the eye of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Organisers also promise transparent project outlines and open bidding.
Business leaders and big aid donors, including the World Bank, have long complained that lucrative projects in Indonesia are carved up between ministers, their families and cronies. They also note an environment that puts investors into the hands of local partners who manage the deals, pay the bribes and steward the phony consultancy fees.
When he announced the summit early last month the co-ordinating Minister for the Economy, Aburizal Bakrie, said details of the projects would be presented and offered to investors through open bids.
Dr Yudhoyono last week signed presidential decrees on the handling of the new infrastructure projects, which as of yesterday included power and energy, public transport, ports and airports, roads and bridges, water, sanitation and telecommunications.
With Indonesia putting in less than $US1 billion, most of the money is needed from the private sector or big donors, all of which are demanding reforms and a cleaner system.
A volunteer registering delegates yesterday said: "As a citizen I am usually not interested in government matters but I feel that with this conference something good can be achieved." The Governor-General, Major-General Michael Jeffery, yesterday began mailing the letters he has written to the families of 17 Australians so far confirmed dead. More than 100 are still missing, 45 for whom the Government holds grave fears.