09/02/2004, 00.00
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Ambon Bishop warns refugee problem will persist unless corruption is rooted out

Ambon (AsiaNews/UCAN) – Mgr. Petrus Canisius Mandagi, Bishop of Amboina (Ambon), said that the "refugee problem in Maluku will continue unless corruption plaguing refugee aid programs is rooted out."  According to the prelate funds earmarked for refugees have failed to reach their intended beneficiaries. "Without honesty in government, it is impossible to address the problem," he added.

Bishop Mandagi also called on the government to take action to prevent "the denial of refugees' rights or it will end in renewed inter-religious conflict." Christian-Muslim clashes in the Maluku islands that began in 1999 have so far killed over 5,000 people displacing  hundreds of thousands both within and without the province. Both sides signed a peace accord in 2002 but it has not yet stopped the violence. Clashes and killings occurred in fact last April and May.

Last month, some provincial legislators called on Maluku governor Karel Albert Ralahalu to replace the head of the Maluku Social Welfare Office for alleged corruption. Funds for refugee assistance and development plans in Ambon City seem to have vanished with losses running in tens of billions of rupees (several millions of euros). Governor Rahahulu responded by calling on the Maluku Development and Finance Audit Body (BPKP) to investigate the matter. "We will visit refugees to collect evidence. If they say they never received funds to return to their homes, it means there were violations," BPKP head Mohammad Chusein said. In 2003, the Maluku Control Committee (Badan Pengawasan Daerah Provinsi Maluku) solved 216 corruption cases saving taxpayers 28.3 billion rupees (around 2.5 million euros).

However, dishonesty does not touch government offices alone. Bishop Mandagi said that refugees also cheat. "They ask for for assistance," he pointed out, "after having already received their share. Some do not use the money for building a house but for holding a party, getting drunk, or traveling. Others even rent out their government-built house."

In 2003 alone, the Indonesian government set aside more than 176 billion rupees (about 15.5 million euros) for refugee repatriation and resettlement in the province. According to figures from the Maluku Social Affairs Office, over 70,000 families have fled sectarian conflict since 1999. Almost 175,000 refugees have been resettled so far.

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