HAVING PLEDGED BILLIONS to assist tsunami-ravaged Southeast Asia, western governments are searching for ways to maintain control over the aid. It’s a logistical and diplomatic challenge: in Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already said he wants foreign troops gone by March 26, while his government is restricting the movement of international aid workers whose agencies supervise the foreign assistance effort. Aileen Carroll, whose duties as Canada’s minister of international co-operation include oversight of the country’s $425-million aid package, addressed those concerns.
What do you make of the deadline set by Yudhoyono?
It’s not so much a deadline as a benchmark.
But I do think there’s concern on the part of the Indonesian government about the number of foreign troops in there. You have,
at last count, more than 4,000 foreign soldiers, and while they’re engaged in terrific humanitarian relief, perhaps there’s a sense of wanting to set a gradual exit for them. It’s not my understanding that the date applies to humanitarian aid workers, and we in the government and at the Canadian International Development Agency plan to be there for the very long haul.
But it seems obvious Jakarta wants a reduced foreign presence on the ground. Could Canadian aid money begin flowing through the Indonesian government?
No. Our monies are channelled through the aid organizations and through the United Nations. We will work with the Indonesian government in the establishment of priorities, but they won’t become recipients of funding. I’ve been very direct in my conversations with the Indonesians, and will continue to be, in the interests of bringing those communities back to life.
I visited refugees in some of the coastal towns of Aceh who think the military is already diverting aid to the black market. What can be done about that?
I don’t have evidence of that, but I think we need to apply all the pressure that we can when we hear these kinds of things. We can also work through the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs— that’s another call I think I will make to express these concerns. In Aceh, I recall meeting one woman in a hijab who came over to speak with us, and she was very direct. “You need to make sure that the aid gets to the people,” she told us. She also said that, quite frankly, the aid shouldn’t go directly to the government. I explained to her that Canadian funding was going to agencies like CARE and the Red Cross.
Right. But in at least one village I noticed that Indonesian soldiers were the ones unloading the aircraft What can aid agencies do to make sure aid reaches the right hands?
The best they can—like all of us, I guess. It will be important for donor countries that have really stepped up to the bar, like Canada, to put solid pressure on the government as far as expectations go, and keep the channels of communication open to convey those expectations. We have every right to do that, and I think Canadians expect me to do that. CHARLIE GILLIS
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