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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, May 16, 2005

Experts say graft may prey on Sri Lanka tsunami aid

Daily Mirror: Financial Times: 14/05/2005"

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Deep-rooted corruption and a lack of political will to fight it threaten to hurt Sri Lanka's efforts to rebuild coastal areas ravaged by the Indian Ocean tsunami, experts and watchdog groups said on Wednesday.

A flow of an unprecedented amount of foreign aid coupled with weak financial accountability, lack of information and consultations could increase the misery of thousands of survivors of the island's worst natural disaster in memory, they said.

"The act of God which creates the destruction is often followed by the greed of man which makes coping with the disaster much more traumatic than the disaster itself," said Gopakumar Krishnan Thampi, head of the Public Affairs Foundation, a Bangalore, India-based watchdog at a conference on disasters in Colombo.

Nearly 40,000 people were swept to their deaths in Sri Lanka by the Dec. 26 tsunami. Another 500,000 people lost their homes. Although donors have pledged $2 billion to help the reconstruction effort, and $1.5 billion of that amount has been signed and sealed, aid agencies and diplomats say the process has been slowed by political differences over sharing aid with Tamil Tiger rebels. This has led to frustration among victims and thrown the field open to corrupt government officials, experts said.

"As we gear up for the painful but necessary step of reconstruction ... the spectre of corruption has started to loom large and ominous on the horizon," anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International's Sri Lankan (TISL) arm said in a statement at the conference.

Past experience had shown that there were many areas where abuses could take place during the reconstruction process, said J.C. Weliamuna, TISL's executive director.

"There can be wastage and extravagance. We know that when there is foreign aid public institutions have wanted to buy Pajeros that may not be necessary," he said referring to an expensive international sports utility vehicle. Land acquisition for construction of new houses, appointment of officials to oversee rehabilitation, allotment of houses and financial assistance, new rules to assess damage and govern reconstruction were other areas vulnerable to corruption, Weliamuna said.

Although Sri Lanka had institutions such as a Bribery Commission and a federal auditing agency, they lacked teeth and resources to check violations, speakers at the conference said. Providing people a right to information, making disclosures and open bidding processes mandatory, involving locals in reconstruction plans and protecting whistleblowers would prevent graft, they said. "Otherwise, this disaster will be followed by other worse disasters," said Ajith Nivard Cabraal, a management consultant involved in Sri Lanka's relief effort.

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