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Helping Indonesia back to its feet

Working lives - Just over a year since the tsunami devastated parts of South Asia, rehabilitation is finally taking shape, says consultant John Brownlie from Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

When John Brownlie arrived in Banda Aceh last October, he admits that he was filled with a deep sense of remorse over how little had been done to rebuild tsunami affected areas.

Brownlie had watched television footage of devastation the tsunami had caused and expected to see more progress 10 months on. But his first impression was of looking out to see the sand and debris dumped several hundreds of metres inland and whole kilometres of missing coastline.

'I was appalled at how little work had been done when I first got here - people are still living in tents even after a year.

You wonder why there isn't a better way of doing things.' Brownlie is working on a six month contract with Australian project management company Cardno ACIL. After a short Christmas break in back home in Shropshire, he has just returned for the second leg of his stay.

This time, he says there is optimism in the air.

'Things are definitely improving now. Every day I'm happier to see how much is happening.' Cardno ACIL is working for the Indonesian government's rehabilitation and reconstruction agency BRR, and Brownlie is now on the inside track understanding how the country is getting itself back on its feet again.

He is lead quality assurance advisor to BRR, ensuring that 945 projects are delivered to the highest possible standard through efficient procurement and planning. Projects are varied and include building new airports, providing electricity and water infrastructure and sourcing medical supplies and motorbikes.

Brownlie is an ex-Atkins engineer but for the last 14 years has worked abroad on projects such as the construction of army camps in Kosovo and an exhibition centre in Hong Kong.

He is also an active ICE Midlands member and secretary of the Civil Engineers' Club.

This is Brownlie's second job in Indonesia. The first involved building 33-storey tower blocks in Jakarta. His work with BRR has included setting up offices in the towns of Meulaboh, Tapaktuan and the city of Sinabang on Simeulue.

'Part of my job is to train people to do things more efficiently - not to be the bullish ex-pat, but to urge them to work to a quicker programme, ' says Brownlie.

'There was a feeling [among the Indonesian people] that the rate of spending was slow and number of projects actually being delivered too few, so we're here to find ways of speeding up the process.' He adds that his role includes making sure that the projects are taken on by bona fide contractors.

The most common form of corruption arises from different companies offering identical tender returns which could mean that some are bogus.

Brownlie atly rejects these bids but this can leave him with just one valid tender, which is uncompetitive. This means he must put more work into some of the other tender offers which were initially non-compliant to bring them up to scratch.

For all this internal wrangling, he is pleased that reconstruction will be carried out by local contractors and suppliers to build up the country's engineering capacity.

'It might overload them in the short term, but in the long run they'll be in a better situation to maintain the schemes.' He adds enthusiastically that asphalt plant has been introduced to Simeulue and quarries are being constructed to provide aggregate for concrete, pointing to a longer term maintenance and renewal strategy for the country's infrastructure.

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