Daily Mirror: 24/09/2005" By Gihan de Chickera and Yohan Perera
The Auditor General’s Department in a shocking report on post tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation, has exposed massive irregularities and misdeeds in the management of foreign funds as well as corruption and inconsistencies in the government’s handling of tsunami aid.
The interim report for losses and damages by the tsunami disaster between December 26 and June 30 was compiled by the Auditor General and presented to Parliament this week. It highlights among other things immense deficiencies in both local and foreign fund management, irregular clearance of tsunami aid from the Airport and Harbour, disappearances in aid material and flaws in housing construction. Information for the report was gathered from Government Ministries, Departments, Public Corporations, Provincial Councils and Local Authorities
The report revealed that only 13.5 percent of the total foreign funds had been used for the reconstruction of key sectors affected by the disaster. Of the total agreed US dollars 1168.8 million in foreign funding, only 158.34 million US dollars has been spent for reconstruction in fisheries (8.2%), water and sanitation (12.3%), housing and urban development (11.2%), life support (24.5%), health (13.7%) and education (12.8%), the report said.
Locally collected funds totalled Rs 4,277,999,449 by August 17 but only Rs 1,576,318,448 or 37% of this money had been spent the report said. The Government has not maintained records on collections made by individuals and institutions and therefore the money has not been utilized for a national plan.
The report also noted that most of the money was being retained in General Deposit Accounts without being used for the intended purposes. Irregular collection of funds by Ministries, Departments and Public Corporations was also noted.
In addition to such financial irregularities, the reports also point out that no action has yet been taken to establish the National Disaster Management Council and the Disaster Management Centre.
Regarding NGO activities, the report states that even though 384 NGOs had agreed to provide funds worth US dollars 1,321 million for rebuilding work, there were instances where work had not started because MoUs had not been signed. Even in cases where MoUs had been signed, certain organizations had not started work the report stressed.
Goods worth Rs 1,010,950 issued to the Kalmunai Divisional Secretariat had disappeared, and 65 electric generators, 78 water tanks, 88 tents and a water motor issued to the same Divisional Secretariat had not been confirmed by the parties concerned, the report said. Also Rs 1,350,000 worth of dry rations allowance had been given to individuals who are not entitled to such allowance in a Divisional Secretariat in the Ampara District.
Goods received at the Bandaranaike International Airport from the date of the tsunami up to 28 December 2004 had been issued without the intervention of the Customs Department and up-to-date records of goods cleared had not been maintained by the Customs. Clearance of goods, free of duty by NGOs and various individuals, was done without supervision by the District Secretaries or the Social Services Department.
686 containers received by NGOs had been abandoned at the Colombo Port the report revealed. Further, the non availability of storage facilities at the Social Services Department and the Ministry of Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction had caused delays in the clearances.
506 vehicles had been imported with duty concessions for a period of 3 months for tsunami work. Nevertheless that period had been extended up to 2008 after the expiry of that period, contrary to the provisions in the Customs Ordinance and without passing a resolution in Parliament the report stated. Also the General Treasury did not have the particulars of institutions or individuals to whom the 506 vehicles had been released, even though 207 were released to Government institutions, 290 to NGOs and 9 to other institutions.
In housing construction, only 2 percent of houses or 1055 houses of a total 48,974 damaged houses had been completed by 4 August 2005. MoUs had been signed only for 34,558 units representing 71 percent of the total requirement. Also payments for house repairs had been made without identifying the value of the damage, thus resulting in heavy expenditure for the Government. For example a sum of Rs 250,000 had been paid for the total destruction of a temporary house valued at Rs 10,000 the report stated. There were also many other weaknesses in the supply of financial assistance for damaged houses cited in the report.
The payment of the Rs 5000 allowance for daily needs of families was severely affected by the disaster because the basis of which it was made had undergone several changes. The report showed that from January to May 2005 six different circulars were released for the payment of allowance of Rs 5000.