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Scaled-Back Rebuilding of Aceh Raises Issues of Shari'a and Trust Funds, Even One UN

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, November 18 -- The rebuilding of Aceh after the tsunami included a projection of 360 schools to be rebuilt by the UN's children's agency UNICEF. Now, according to the Director of the Indonesian National Executive Agency for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias (BRR), Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, that number is being sharply reduced. Inner City Press on November 16 asked why; the response was that "the number of children vanished or destroyed by the tsunami was staggering, we had to rectify the numbers." Video here, from Minute 37:44. The same applies to shrimp ponds and rice paddies, and to village health clinics. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said that the national standard in Indonesia is one clinic to ever 28,000 villagers. On Aceh it is already 14,000 per clinic, so "we have to slower our progress in rebuilding village clinics," Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said.

            The question of shari'a law is one that Kuntoro Mangkusubroto has raised, and then backed off of.  He had mentioned shari'a, Islamic law, as a hindrance. Inner City Press on Friday asked him about it, leading to a five minute explanation which ended with a statement that for investment to come to Aceh, there has to be an inviting finance law. So, Inner City Press asked,  are you saying that shari'a, with its prohibition on interest, is a hindrance to investment?  Video here, from Minute 5:58.

   "I am not linking these two," Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said, looking uncomfortable. Video here, at Minute 11:10.

After the tsunami, trust funds not shown

            There has been controversy about the BRR setting aside over $100 million in funds unused in 2006 into a trust fund, which Indonesia's Supreme Audit Agency and legislature have called illegal. Inner City Press asked about this on Friday. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto's answer was that, yes, the trust fund has been closed down due to the dispute, but that it was opened with the guidance of the Minister of Finance, so it is now between the minister and the legislature. But why was the trust fund set up, if it is not permitted under Indonesian law. It was a helpful mechanism, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said, adding that the UN Office of Reconstruction Coordination is a model for the so-called System-wide Coherence until which the UN Development Program would become the UN's center-point in every country. Does the Aceh example bode well? We'll see.

Footnote: Later Friday in the UN orbit, the Indonesia mission threw a party eight stories over 38th Street, with a live band -- nothing Indonesian about long versions of Prince's "Purple Rain" -- and then a d.j., a dance floor throbbing with diplomats and interns and a handful of reporters. A diplomat shouted, you should write about this! Done. Those the recent India-fest in the UN's Express Bar might have topped it.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540