Indonesian rehab czar: Give Lacson more powers

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Otherwise, Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson ends up as a 'CEO without a budget,' an expert says

LACSON'S COUNTERPART. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto successfully led the rehabilitation of Aceh and Nias after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Can the Philippines build back better, too, under Lacson? File photo by Nani Efrida/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – The man who wielded “near-absolute” powers in tsunami-hit Aceh, Indonesia, made an appeal for his Filipino counterpart who works as a CEO “without a budget.”

Indonesian rehabilitation czar Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who successfully rebuilt Aceh and Nias after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, said the Philippines should give more authority to Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.

“I’d like to suggest that Secretary Ping is given more power – budgetary power, implementation power, coordination power, and also a kind of freedom from the standard accounting, auditing mechanism,” Kuntoro told Rappler in an interview after a forum on Wednesday, March 12.

Lacson himself said his weak powers “exacerbate” the job of rebuilding more than 16 million lives affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The former senator, for one, has no power over the budget, and his position carries no “legal weight.” His job is to coordinate.

Kuntoro, whom Lacson consults on rehabilitation efforts, agreed that Lacson’s authority is “weak.”

“For such a huge job like that, just to coordinate without any real power to enforce, to implement, it’s gonna be tough. But with all the support, with other departments, agencies, then he can be very successful,” the Indonesian senior minister explained. (Watch more in the video below)

‘Zero tolerance’ vs corruption

In his case, the Indonesian government freed Kuntoro from “standard” accounting mechanisms, and allowed him, “in some areas,” not “to go through a bidding process.” His group, the Executing Agency for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (BRR) of Aceh-Nias, set up its own systems to speed up rebuilding.

The Indonesian rehab czar, for one, “can direct, select contractors to build houses.” In a number of cases, he also gave freedom to foreign non-governmental organizations “to do construction through their own governance mechanism.”

To complement Kuntoro’s powers, his group, the BRR took a “zero-tolerance stance” against corruption in Indonesia.

In a report, the agency said it “put in place internal monitoring mechanisms, welcomed external scrutiny of its accounts, and promoted anti-corruption practices to its external partners.”

One of the “startling” results, the BRR said, is that it received around 93% of the aid that the world promised.

The Philippines has received only around a fifth of the world’s pledges. (Watch more in the video below)

Lacson: ‘I don’t have that’

Kuntoro said Lacson’s weak authority will affect international aid in the long run.

“How can he enforce the integrity of the whole process? How can he enforce transparency in the process? Because he has to deal with other agencies,” Lacson’s Indonesian counterpart explained.

Lacson also admits the stark difference between his and Kuntoro’s authority.

During the 2nd Annual Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative (PCSI) Forum, Lacson quoted Kuntoro as saying the biggest challenge he met “was coordination,” and the key to success “was transparency.”

“But he was coordinating from a position of authority, and I don’t have that,” Lacson added. “He was the one implementing and I have nothing of that.”

“But I’m hoping with the help of the private sector and all the multilaterals who are still staying along the Yolanda corridor, something is being done,” he said. (Watch the entire panel discussion with Lacson and Kuntoro below)

‘Worst vocabularies’

Eliciting laughter, Lacson said not having a budget is in fact “a blessing.”

“So far I’m getting the cooperation and support of the line departments. The President has been very supportive, and I can still maintain what I said when we were talking after I was appointed: Failure is not an option. So I’ll do whatever I can, with the help of all sectors, government included, to finish my job and do it to its logical conclusion,” the rehabilitation chief explained.

Urban architect and planner Jun Palafox, whom Lacson consulted before taking his new position, said he is displeased with the the powers Lacson got. He urged the government to “forget too much politics and too much red tape.”

“We thought that he would be appointed as rehab czar like Dr Kuntoro,” Palafox said during the PCSI forum. “Unfortunately, 9 days after, when Secretary Lacson was given the appointment, it was not going to be a rehab czar but a coordinator.”

“In emergency cases,” he explained, “the words coordinator and committee are the worst vocabularies.”

Palafox said, “So we have here Secretary Lacson like a CEO without a budget.”

Lacson, however, earlier said a wider range of powers “entails legislation.” “Kapag legislation, eh siyam-siyam naman tayo aabutin diyan,” the former senator said. (If we rely on legislation, we’ll get nowhere.)

Like Lacson, lawmakers have proposed creating a “fully independent” disaster agency. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email