Activists weigh in on Oxfam graft case

Tb. Arie Rukmantara, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

To maintain the integrity of Aceh reconstruction, aid agency Oxfam International should press charges against its staff members allegedly involved in graft worth US$22,000 in its Aceh Besar office, activists said.

Indonesia Corruption Watch deputy coordinator Danang Widoyoko told The Jakarta Post that the results of the agency's internal investigation had found all the elements needed to press charges against the alleged staff members.

"There have been breaches of law, ill-gotten wealth, and abuses of authority. All of that should be enough reason to bring these people to court," he said.

Oxfam announced earlier that it has handed down sanctions to 22 staff members, of whom five are foreigners, in connection with the scam. However, the British-based agency has yet to announce any plans for legal action against them.

Danang stressed that should the agency decide to take its staff members to court, it should not discriminate.

"The agency should not sue just the Indonesian workers, but also the five foreign workers, because the crime occurred in the country's jurisdiction," he said.

"Such a move is vital to promoting the credibility of all agencies operating in Aceh," he added.

Oxfam is one of the hundreds of international aid agencies working to reconstruct the province, which was devastated by the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami. The catastrophe left more than 160,000 people dead or missing and displaced some 500,000.

Budi Arianto of the Aceh Tribal Community Network urged Oxfam to ask police to arrest the foreign workers who were involved in the scam, to prevent them from fleeing the country.

"Firing them and sending them back home is a lenient penalty. They should face justice here," he said.

Oxfam spokesperson Yon Thayrun welcomed such suggestions, but said the agency preferred to complete its internal investigation before deciding whether or not to take legal action.

"Presently, disciplinary sanctions have been handed down, but we have yet to decide to involve the police," he said, adding that Oxfam would first wrap up internal investigations in all of its seven offices in Aceh to uncover other possible illegal practices.

"We found indications that embezzlement has also taken place in our Meulaboh office. At present, we are investigating that allegation," he said.

He added that should the case go to court, his organization has vowed there will be no racial discrimination.

"Oxfam is committed to finding the best way to punish these five foreign workers," he said.
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