COLOMBO, (AFP) - International and local charities have wasted aid money meant for tsunami relief and slowed reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka, an independent think-tank said.
The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) asked the Sri Lankan government to rein in the number of charities, many of which it says are in competition with each other and preoccupied with grabbing media attention.
Last year's tsunami killed more than 31,000 people here and displaced nearly a million. Some 250,000 people still live in cramped transitional homes, despite international aid pledges topping 3.2 billion dollars.
"Reluctance to co-operate with government institutions and competitive behaviour towards others continue to hamper coordination and implementation," said IPS economist Paul Steele.
Nearly 300 aid agencies capitalised on a huge international outpouring of sympathy for tsunami survivors and collected millions of dollars to rebuild and restore livelihoods along Sri Lanka's devastated coastlines.
But an official from the country's housing ministry said some NGOs (non-governmental organisations) were less than honest.
"We came across quite a few NGOs that had signed MOUs (memorandum of understanding to build homes) and then used the document to raise funds," said the official, who declined to be named.
IPS's Steele said one way to monitor performance would be to consolidate.
"It might be better if some NGOs are amalgamated. There is a whole plethora of costs," he said.
"Administration costs are high. There are salary anomalies within NGOs, poor targeting of recipients and most unfortunately, competition among organisations themselves to get visibility within the community," he said.
The tsunami damage to infrastructure was estimated at one billion dollars, but the replacement cost was put at between 1.5 and 1.6 billion dollars, according to a study released in January.
"Costs are up by around 60 percent since January. For instance, the government estimated around 400,000 rupees (4,000 dollars) was enough to build a house. Now its over 600,000 rupees (6,000 dollars)," said Sisira Jayasinghe, economist and an author of the IPS post-tsunami recovery study.
The island's former tsunami reconstruction chief, Rohini Nanayakkara, warned that Sri Lanka has to compete for aid following natural disasters in other parts of the region.
She said that although the initial pledges were twice the reconstruction cost, the country could end up with funding gaps.
"If aid is not closely monitored, donor interest will slow down because there have been other disasters elsewhere that are now drawing their attention," she said.
In a report to parliament, Auditor General Sarath Mayadunne said continuous project delays had cost millions of dollars.
President Mahinda Rajapakse, who was elected on November 17, has set up a new authority to coordinate all tsunami-related relief operations.