Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) made some key recommendations for preventing corruption in post-tsunami relief and reconstruction operations at a seminar on 'Rebuilding with accountability after a disaster' on May 11 organized by TISL and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (ICASL).
Some of these recommendations were that all stakeholders involved in tsunami assistance must ensure transparency and accountability in their operations particularly in the management of the financial flows, that donors should coordinate with the governments and among themselves to avoid duplication of assistance schemes, and that affected people and also civil society should be involved in decision making.
They also called for better information dissemination and the provision of easily accessible corruption reporting channels combined with effective mechanisms to encourage and protect whistle blowers.
As the affected people's ownership of the relief and the reconstruction process is essential, operations should build on their leadership, participation and commitment to ensuring the best use of assistance. Relief operations must therefore contribute to the strengthening of local institutions, transfer of technical skills, and should promote policies aimed at preventing corruption.
NGOs play an important role in monitoring the relief and reconstruction process and in reporting any suspicion of corruption to authorities. They need to closely coordinate their activities with governments, donors and among themselves, while ensuring the maximum involvement of all groups of affected people in priority setting and decision making.
TISL said that for these ideas to resonate and apply in the Sri Lankan context, certain enabling factors need to be promoted to make sustained impacts on ground. TISL believes that a visible political will to fight corruption in the post-tsunami reconstruction is conspicuous by its absence in Sri Lanka.
In strengthening of local institutions and networks to ensure community ownership and participation in the relief and reconstruction activities a point to emphasize is the need to identify and promote local expertise as there is a clear danger of applying universal templates to culture specific contexts and creating solutions which are impractical and worse, exaggerate existing problems.
Empowering citizens and affected communities through enacting new legal measures such as Right to Information, Disclosure Laws and Whistleblower Protection Acts to ensure effective public participation and collaboration in rolling back corrupt practices are also some of the factors pointed out.
According to TISL, there is a growing danger that all capacity building measures on accountability and transparency will be limited to the relief and reconstruction projects (mostly due to donor compulsions) and will leave the larger domain of public institutions untouched.
There is a strong need to strengthen critical institutions like the office of the Auditor General, independent commissions like the Bribery Commission and Parliamentary Oversight Committees. If these wider measures are not taken, there is a strong chance that particular projects will exist as "islands of integrity" in "oceans of corruption".
TISL also says that the under-currents of conflict embedded into the social and political fabrics need to be kept in perspective while designing participatory structures for the implementation and monitoring of relief and reconstruction works. The idea of broad based consortiums should be promoted to make public participation more inclusive and representative.
TISL strongly believes that these ideas, concerns and suggestions should reverberate within all institutional spaces in the governance arena. The need of the hour is for a constructive inclusive debate and a proactive posture to reflect and review current practices and policies.
Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Management Consultant and Past President of ICASL, made a presentation on 'Creating enabling institutional mechanisms in Sri Lanka - Challenges and Opportunities'.
Institutional mechanism is a body to formulate an acceptable policy and to develop a delivery system for a specified objective. An enabling institutional mechanism should ideally cover assessing the extent of damage, assessing the needs of beneficiaries and victims, raising the funds necessary to meet the cost of relief and reconstruction, ensuring the participation of "victims" in the rebuilding effort, create awareness of the work being carried out, implementing projects while ensuring quality control, people's participation and monitoring and instilling and ensuring financial discipline, arranging disciplinary proceedings and anti corruption measures, and regular reviewing of operations and outputs.
Cabraal said that the fundamental pre-requisite for any institutional mechanism is the empowerment of the people. To ensure this, there should be peoples' right to participation, transparency and monitoring by people, right to information, right to be consulted and to exercise informed choice and consent, right to monitor, evaluate and audit all disaster response work.
The recommendations made by Cabraal for creating institutional mechanism are rebuilding with accountability, rebuilding quickly, rebuilding with people's participation, revival of livelihoods and economy, capacity building and training of those engaged in the relief and reconstruction efforts, trade and enterprise resurgence, engaging local communities, foreign donors and NGOs effectively and establishing credible complaint and grievance channels.