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Tsunami aid “missing”, says anti-corruption group

Children at the Jiffrey tsunami shelter in Kalmunai on the east coast of Sri Lanka. For many of them the camp has been home since the 2004 tsunami.
(Christine Jayasinghe/IRIN)

Over US$500 million in tsunami aid given to Sri Lanka has gone “missing”, an anti-corruption organisation has charged.

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) said its investigations had revealed a gap between the amounts disbursed by foreign aid agencies and what has been spent on relief and recovery projects since the 2004 tsunami.

“The difference between the disbursed and the expended (amounts) has been a controversial issue that does not have a credible explanation,” said TISL in a statement released to mark the third anniversary of the disaster. “There is no precise evidence to explain the missing sum of Rs 53,597,253,625 [about US$535 million].”

The government, however, has consistently said its recovery programme has been a notable success. Government spokesman and Information Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said last week that Sri Lanka had performed better than other tsunami-stricken nations, and that there had been “an overall 80 percent success” rate.

According to figures TISL said it obtained earlier this year from the Development Assistance Database (DAD) - an official website which tracks tsunami aid inflows - donor agencies gave about $1.2 billion (having initially pledged about twice as much).

Of this approximately $1.2 billion, the amount spent on tsunami projects is Rs. 68,533,124,662 (about US$685 million), according to the DAD.

TISL said it had reason to believe that some of the funds “have been utilised by the government for other purposes”, but did not elaborate on to what these “other purposes” might have been.

Government dismisses allegations

A government official overseeing tsunami recovery dismissed the allegations: She said the figures were misleading because they were entered into the database by bilateral and multilateral agencies themselves.

“The government has no check on what figures have been entered into the database because the donors enter the figures themselves,” Shanthi Fernando, a presidential adviser on post-tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation affairs, told IRIN. “This is not money that the government has received directly.”

No government audit of tsunami aid

TISL said there had been no government audit of tsunami aid since an interim report issued in 2005. “Thus, the overall picture on finances is ambiguous and left for speculation,” its statement said.


Photo: Christine Jayasinghe/IRIN
Disgruntled residents of the Lunawa tsunami camp near Colombo say they have repeatedly asked for permanent homes close to the beach as most of them are fishermen 

However, presidential adviser Fernando said individual ministries which had undertaken tsunami projects had conducted their own financial reviews and, as such, there was no need for the government to conduct an additional review.

Among the other issues raised by TISL were political interference in the allotting of housing and allegations of corruption against village level officials which have yet to be investigated. “Large-scale reconstruction processes… need a system to receive complaints relating to corruption,” TISL said, recommending that the government establish a formal complaints procedure.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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