The Government of Sri Lanka and the UN Agencies have reported satisfactory progress in the recovery process. The ground reality may not be so rosy. Other tsunami affected countries seem to have fared better. In Indonesia, the Government and the Free Aceh movement signed a historic peace pact on the anniversary of the tsunami giving a boost to the recovery efforts. The failure of the aid-sharing deal, combined with elections, has heightened the bitterness between the communities in Sri Lanka. Recent events point to a collapse of the fragile ceasefire
The biggest issue seems to be the accountability of the tsunami fund utilization and how the relief and reconstruction efforts are being coordinated. The Auditor-General has referred to glaring deficiencies in the management of Tsunami funds. The Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka says in its report “poor coordination among domestic and external agencies has emerged as a serious problem, together with the sensitive issues of balancing political considerations and humanitarian assistance to the needy”. The Report emphasized the need for the Government to rein in the private charities which often worked at cross purposes and competed with each other for media attention and pushed wages artificially high.
The Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (a collaborative set-up of Donor Governments, Aid Departments, UN agencies and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements), in their recent report said “International Agencies focus too much on promoting their brand and not enough on the needs of the affected populations. Agencies are still not transparent enough to the people they are trying to assist. In some cases Agencies are also not sufficiently accountable to those providing fund.”
The U.N. Flash Appeal Web site (http://ocha.unog.ch/fts) reportedly tracking expenditure and the Sri Lanka TAFREN/ UNDP development assistance database (http://dad.tafren.gov.lk/) that is supposed to track spending on specific projects, although fancy with chart/ map/ report capabilities, fall far short of the U.N.’s reported plans to track and account for the tsunami billions.
Even the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), the recipient of a huge amount of tsunami funds, is being queried. A request to give a figure for the ‘administrative costs’ of the IFRC in Sri Lanka was reportedly turned down by Tony Maryon, Head of the IFRC Delegation to Sri Lanka.
Some local NGOs show more transparency and accountability. The Sarvodaya web site gives details of expenditure district by district. The TRO has published detailed audited statement of accounts for Tsunami projects completed in the North and East up to June 2005. Interestingly, TRO’s statement of accounts puts the administrative costs at 3.5%.
How much of each tsunami fund dollar reaches those affected? Are the funds utilized in the best interests of the victims of the tsunami? Citizens, taxpayers and donors around the world must seek answers for these questions from the Donor and Recipient Governments, UN Agencies, International and Local NGOs who are the direct recipients of the tsunami funds.