BENCHMARK’s recent interview with RADA’s Chief Operating Officer, Shanthi Fernando, reveals that the government’s promise to rebuild all tsunami-affected houses by the end of the year is more than unlikely to materialise. Almost two years have lapsed since the devastating natural disaster, and yet, much still remains to be done with regard to reconstruction and development in the affected areas. The reconstruction of houses, restoration of livelihoods and infrastructure development are lagging far behind expectations, it was revealed.
When BENCHMARK interviewed the recently appointed COO, a political appointee, it was revealed that the country’s post-tsunami reconstruction process lacked the desired levels of transparency and accountability. Grey areas still remain in terms of monitoring and the facilitation of post-tsunami reconstruction efforts.
RADA is the successor to TAFREN (the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation) and virtually all employees of TAFREN were absorbed into RADA, which meant that the agency is virtually a continuation of TAFREN with a mere change of name.
When BENCHMARK asked Fernando how much was actually pledged by the international community – including donor agencies such as The World Bank, IMF and ADB, for post-tsunami reconstruction – she divulged that US$ 2.4 billion was pledged in terms of aid for post-tsunami reconstruction and other development projects. According to her, the quantum of that aid received by recipients has so far amounted to US$ 815 million. She also disclosed that the donor agencies have implemented projects in tsunami-affected areas to a rough approximation of this value at present – but, as the anchor on BENCHMARK commented (judging but an evident lack of a proper grasp on the financial details), more clarity was to be desired.
When asked if Sri Lanka could, perhaps, have lost out on some pledges, Fernando maintained: “We have not lost out on any pledges. Some pledges are yet to materialise.” What is received is less that what was actually pledged – since NGOs, which are implementing the projects, had used some of these funds for their benefit… some even to sojourn in star-class hotels in Colombo, she alleged.
Meanwhile, a Central Bank press release stated that the government has received almost Rs. 30 billion in aid through various banking channels. BENCHMARK asked Fernando how much of this sum has actually been disbursed to tsunami victims. The RADA chief responded: “According to the information provided by developmental partners, our database only indicates US$ 815 million as being spent on post-tsunami relief and recovery.”
However, key questions relating to accountability and disbursements of funds received by the government and the NGOs with regard to tsunami aid remain unanswered. Fernando claimed that it was NGOs which received aid, adding that it was not possible to monitor how much these organisations had received as aid to conduct post-tsunami operations in Sri Lanka. “The donors carry out the programmes and we monitor it. We cannot say that we receive anything,” she maintained.
When asked what was impeding the flow of information to the public, Fernando said that a database exists to provide information, but admitted that not much publicity had been given to RADA’s activities in the past. She also admitted that information on projects that were conducted by local NGOs such as Sarvodaya are not reflected on RADA’s national website, which reports the progress of reconstruction. This is because “these organisations have not submitted their details to RADA”, she elucidated.
The present country situation is also impacting on RADA activities. Fernando noted that the prevalent security situation in some areas causes “temporary setbacks in some efforts”; but she affirmed: “Work is going on.”
Nearly 100,000 houses were damaged by the tsunami. How far has housing reconstruction progressed? “We needed 98,000 houses. Donors signed MOUs –vis-à-vis the donor-driven programme – to construct 35,000 houses; they have so far only completed 11,875. Then we have the owner-driven programme, where The World Bank and other multilateral agencies fund partially-damaged and fully-damaged houses. The owner of a partially-damaged house receives Rs. 100,000 while the owner of a fully-damaged house receives Rs. 250,000. That programme is progressing very well and 90 per cent of it has been completed,” said Fernando.
When BENCHMARK asked the RADA chief why some tsunami victims still languished in tents, she said: “The tents have been removed. Officially, we do not maintain tents.” She added that some people were still occupying certain tents for their own, entirely invalid, reasons. “We had about 57,000 transitional shelters; but now, there are only 35,000 – because people have moved into their own houses. If the donors built houses properly, we could have moved all those affected people into houses,” she said, alluding to the failure of the NGOs to keep their initial promises vis-à-vis housing reconstruction.
RADA aims to complete 90 per cent of tsunami-related housing requirements by the end of this year. “I am confident that almost 90 per cent of the houses will be completed by the second anniversary of the tsunami. If the NGOs and INGOs complete their work as committed, then there will not be a problem,” Fernando underscored.
BENCHMARK is presented by LMD and produced by ‘the wrap factory’. It airs every Sunday on TNL at noon, with a repeat at 9.05 p.m.