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Indonesia: Aid $$ Won't Be Stolen

Indonesia will work with donor countries to ensure aid for tsunami victims is not stolen by corrupt officials, and the country has appointed the international accounting agency Ernst & Young to track the funds.

Local anti-graft activists have said they fear that about 30 percent of the aid money projected to be spent on Indonesia's recovery could be stolen - about the average that disappears each year from the national government's budget.

Foreign governments and international agencies have pledged around $5 billion in aid to the region. Indonesia, regularly listed as one the world's most corrupt countries, is expected to get the largest chunk.

Of the over 162,000 people who were killed by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami, in eleven different countries surrounding the Indian Ocean, at least 115,000 were on Sumatra Island in Indonesia.

Aceh province - hardest hit by the tsunami - is perhaps the most corrupt province in Indonesia, with a governor is currently on trial accused of stealing state funds. A decades-long struggle with separatist rebels there has left local authority largely in the hands of the Indonesian military, one the country's most graft-ridden institutions.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda says most foreign governments that have donated aid are also demanding that they be allowed to manage the funds along with Indonesia - a demand he said Jakarta had no problems in fulfilling.

"There is no need to be suspicious of Indonesia's management of funds," he said. "It is in our interest that the money is managed in a transparent and accountable way."

Wirayuda also took on another touchy issue Wednesday - saying there is no need for Indonesians to be suspicious of foreign troops who are distributing emergency supplies and treating survivors in hard-hit Aceh province.

"The presence of the foreign soldiers should not be seen as a sensitive issue," Hassan Wirayuda told reporters in Jakarta. "They are there for a humanitarian operation. We should appreciate them."

Some Muslim groups and nationalist politicians have called on the Indonesian government to give international soldiers a deadline to leave the region, citing fears their presence in the staunchly Muslim region was an infringement of the country's sovereignty.

In Aceh province, U.S. helicopters are flying 80 tsunami relief missions a day.

The end point for U.S. military aid to the tsunami area in Indonesia is not yet in sight, but U.S. military engineers could be winding up their efforts in Sri Lanka and Thailand within the next few weeks.

After touring Galle, Sri Lanka, by helicopter Monday, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Sri Lanka is further along than Indonesia in starting to rebuild, and U.S. military engineers helping with the rebuilding effort there may soon leave.

"We don't want to stay any longer than we are really needed," Wolfowitz said. "I think the need for this kind of military support is going away quite quickly."

In New York Tuesday, United Nations officials back from personally inspecting the tsunami zone detailed the staggering devastation wrought by South Asia's earthquake-spawned killer waves and called for more aid.

"We know from experience that the poor always suffer the most enduring damage from such natural disasters as their assets are often completely wiped out," said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, again calling on rich nations to help rebuild tsunami areas. "So we need to focus on longer-term recovery and reconstruction, and ensure that from now on, there are no gaps in the future funding effort."

U.N. officials say a clearer picture is emerging of the destruction in Indonesia's Aceh province. In some areas, fatality rates topped 75 percent and 100 percent of the homes were destroyed. The town of Calang, for example, lost 90 percent of its population - some 6,550 people out of a pre-tsunami population of 7,300 - and survivors are in dire need of assistance.

In Kobe, Japan, delegates gathered Tuesday and Wednesday at the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Reduction discussed the building of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean like the one that already exists in the Pacific.

The model for the new network is an existing system in the Pacific, which was established in 1965 and now provides early tsunami warnings to 26 nations. Experts say much of the technology - from earthquake and sea level sensors to messaging systems - could be easily transferred to southern Asia.

The key, experts said, is organizing Indian Ocean nations so that they are able to transmit alerts to coastal communities and share information among themselves quickly. Scientists will face the complex tasks of gauging tsunami risks along varied coastlines and other assessments of hazard. Countries also need evacuation plans and other measures to mitigate tsunami damage.

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