By Latheef Farook –
Will foreign aid reach victims of last week’s natural disaster? Many raise this question following looting of tsunami aid
Will the foreign aid flowing into the country following torrential rains, widespread floods, landslides and gale force winds since 14 May 2016 reach their victims?
This is the question raised by many circles in view of the heartless looting of billions of dollars of tsunami aid allegedly by politicians, bureaucracy and others involved.
Almost twelve years after the tsunami today there are Muslim victims in the east living in make shift camps ignored by the government, authorities and their own politicians. Five hundred houses built by Saudi government for Muslim tsunami victims continue to rot and fall apart in dilapidated states with the entire complex being turned into a virtual jungle.
Though the government changed the bureaucracy almost remain the same. In fact Minister Kabir Hashim even filed a case against then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa accusing him of playing out tsunami aid. However it is common knowledge that one could not expect justice from politicised judiciary under Rajapaksa regime.
Thus the suspicion whether the foreign aid for recent victims of natural disaster will end up in the same fate?
During tsunami disaster then President Kumaratunga, who was in London, rushed home and assured that their houses would be rebuilt within six months. But these promises disappeared in the same way of the tsunami waves, despite billions of rupees given by countries, organizations and individuals to help tsunami victims.
While tsunami victims were languishing in appalling conditions in inhospitable temporary shelters, there began to emerge reports of corruption highlighting to what extent human beings could descend in exploiting even human misery and sufferings for their own benefit.
According to a report by the then Auditor-General, S.C. Mayadunne, “government officials misspent or misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tsunami aid after failing to follow instructions. Officials gave millions of rupees in tsunami assistance to thousands of families who were not directly affected while others displaced by the tsunami did not even get the rations they were entitled to”.
According to reports Sri Lanka received 3.2 billion dollars in foreign aid pledges.
Tsunami waves did not discriminate on the basis of race, caste, religion, colour, language or any such artificial barriers. Instead, proving that nature doesn’t pick and choose to destroy, these waves from the very same sea which generously provided them livelihood for generations wiped out all alike without any discrimination.
However there was blatant racism in helping tsunami victims on the basis of race and religion.
In the absence of proper account-keeping, many believe that only a fraction of the aid actually went to the real victims and it was impossible to track down what happened to the cash. Official figures are often contradictory, but even the state admits only about half of the damaged or destroyed homes have been rebuilt as the country marked the tragedy’s second anniversary.
“God only knows whether the money was spent on tsunami victims or anybody else! The government accused non-governmental organizations for the slow progress and it is like the pot calling the kettle black, and there has been large-scale corruption in delivering aid,” said a top TEFREN executive who pointed out that local and international charities, numbering nearly 400, were flooded with donations and overwhelmed by the unprecedented funding while many NGOs wasted the money.
“Some who were not even affected by the tsunami got houses. Some got two or three boats while others did not get any. They put too much emphasis on urgency and did not adhere to accounting standards. The tsunami in many ways was a blessing in disguise to the government.
Under the headline “Merry times for tsunami racketeers” this is what a report in the “Island” of 26 December 2006 said, “Even years after the tsunami, the government is yet to punish State officials accountable for waste, corruption and negligence in the aftermath of the unprecedented natural disaster.
“Inquiries reveal that the government has failed to initiate action against them despite clear evidence of wasteful expenditure on a large scale. Politicians have connived with officials to help their supporters play out funds and in some cases, further the interests of their associates. They have profited from crooked deals involving crooked means, hiring of vehicles and compensation for damaged and destroyed houses.
“The then ruling coalition ignored an interim report by the Auditor General’s Department, which details a series of irregularities. The report has dealt with questionable transactions. It is critical of lapses on the part of the General Treasury, Central Bank and the Customs. Under a section titled Limitation on Procuring Information for Audit, the Auditor General (AG) has said that the Central Bank ignored a call to provide information on tsunami funds. The AG’s Department has been particularly harsh on several Divisional Secretariats in the East and South. This report is still gathering dust. The report called for an in-depth police investigation. Unfortunately, the Rajapaksa government ignored that call, and thereby allowed a group of corrupt officials and their political masters to go scot free.”
Many who were awaiting aid said that they didn’t know where the aid money went but they were still living in single room wooden houses. According to one report, money was feverishly transferred not only to government establishments, but also to accounts of individuals, companies and charity organisations; so much so that a report by The Tsunami Evaluation coalition (TEC), under former US President Bill Clinton, suggested that Sri Lanka was over-aided and the island should be the best and the most efficiently reconstructed.
Sri Lanka’s deputy executive director of the anti-graft organisation Rukshana Nanayakkara said: “it was almost impossible to find out what happened to the cash. According to an initial government audit only 13 percent of the aid was spent during the first year of reconstruction, but since then there has been no formal examination of accounts.” Hundreds of tsunami survivors had complained to the graft buster against local and international aid agencies. He added that, “there has been no proper accounts maintained on the aid money and we believe that only a fraction of the aid trickled down to the real victims”.