JAKARTA, Dec 5 – Women will be the key to a new Aceh that is open and progressive, the head of the agency tasked with overseeing the rebuilding in the tsunami-hit Indonesian province said Monday as he defended the speed of reconstruction there.

Some 16,500 houses out of a 120,000 targetted for Aceh’s 570,000 displaced people have been completed to date, with a further 15,500 slated to be finished this year, said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency for Aceh (BRR).

More than a total of 30,000 houses is "a big achievement", he told a press briefing in Jakarta, "because the national capacity of Indonesia to build public houses is not more than 60,000 houses. So if you compare with the capacity, it’s up to or close to capacity.

"But if you compare to the demand or the need, then it’s only one quarter of it. So we need some time to finish it… We have to try, we have to try hard."

Some 67,000 people remain in tents and 30,000 live in barracks in the staunchly Muslim province, with the rest staying with relatives, but the BRR aims to have everyone in permanent houses by mid-2007.

Next year 78,000 houses are targeted to be built, said Mangkusubroto, who has been praised for his no-nonsense approach and tough anti-corruption stance in graft-prone Indonesia.

"The challenges are huge. How do you distribute materials to the western part of Aceh? Roads destroyed, harbours destroyed and the monsoon is coming. Well, let’s work hard," he said.

The tsunami last December destroyed more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) of coastline, killing or leaving missing more than 168,000 people in Aceh, destroying livelihoods and flattening crucial infrastructure and houses.

Responding to complaints by many survivors that NGOs had promised them homes they have failed to deliver, Mangkusubroto said that he had surveyed who was doing what, and planned to name and shame those not pulling their weight.

"I just got the list of NGOs. I’m still finalising it," he said.

"I can say that in general the smaller NGOs that pledged houses, less than 500 — on the average 100 or 200 — they actually are the performers… Those who pledge more than 1,000, they don’t deliver."

Some 480 NGOs are operating in the province, "locals and internationals, the big ones and small ones, the serious ones and not-so serious ones," he said.

But rebuilding, Mangkusubroto said, was not just about infrastructure.

"We want to transform Aceh to become an open, aggressive, progressive society — not isolated and not only looking to the past," he said.

"So our concept in transforming the society is through women and children… Every village should have a women’s centre, a physical thing."

The BRR chief said that the content of the centres would be "anything that will open women’s vision towards the future of Aceh", adding that when it comes to change, "women are much more strategic than men."

One way to help them tap into their own power would be for microfinance projects to favour them when they approach with ideas for cottage industries they can run themselves, but he said no formal quota was planned.

Aceh is entering a new era of peace, after separatist rebels signed a deal with the government in August after nearly three decades of conflict that left some 15,000 people dead, mostly civilians. The tsunami was a key catalyst in getting both sides to the negotiating table.

The BRR has a 7.1 billion-dollar budget to spend throughout its five-year mandate.

/ Current Affairs