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The story of Kuntoro Mangkusubroto - working as the hands of God

By Duncan Graham - posted Wednesday, 24 December 2008

At the time it was the toughest job in Indonesia.

Repair a landscape ripped raw by one of the world’s most extreme natural disasters; house the grief-torn survivors who’d lost more than 170,000 relatives, friends and neighbors; rebuild roads, bridges, ports, power stations, hospitals - all the infrastructure that makes cities function.

Manage a huge budget and be accountable to governments and NGOs in Indonesia and around the world.


Cope with the hostility, the prejudice, the deep-seated suspicions still virulent after 30 years of civil war, the jealousy, the angry confrontationists and the back-stabbers. Aceh was a tortured land drained of trust and particularly hostile towards Javanese from the central government.

That Kuntoro Mangkusubroto stayed the distance, achieved the goals and at 61 looks fresh enough to tackle another epic catastrophe indicates that the director of the Bureau of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction in Aceh and Nias (BRR) is a distinctly gifted human being - though he rejects this appraisal: “I’m just myself.”

Four years ago this Boxing Day a massive undersea earthquake off Aceh triggered a tsunami. Waves to 12m swept across 800km of coast and up to 1.6km inland.

It was a scene from Armageddon.

The world pledged US$7.2 billion and paid $6.7 billion. Thousands of aid workers flooded in with a multiplicity of agendas. Also lured were those who saw the chance to exploit the situation and milk the largesse.

Indonesia ranks 143 on the world’s corruption index and the cynics predicted much of the aid would never reach those hurting most, and that petty bureaucracy would destroy even the best intentioned and most resilient.


There has been some minor project-level corruption that’s being pursued, according to Kuntoro, but the BRR has not been infected. The agency’s accounts have been checked by international auditors and given an unqualified pass.

“We set up an internal anti-corruption unit, the first for any Indonesian government agency,” he said in Wellington, New Zealand. He was in the country to address a conference on disaster risk management and thank Kiwis for their aid. Like Australia, New Zealand was among the first countries to offer help.

“We developed new standards of accountability for Indonesia and in advance of many other countries.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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