From tsunami to landslides:
Tracking aid and relief
Will the foreign aid flowing into the country following torrential
rains, widespread floods, landslides and gale force winds since 14 May
2016 reach their victims? This is the question raised by many circles in
view of the heartless looting of billions of US$ of tsunami aid
allegedly by politicians, bureaucracy and others involved.
Billions of US dollars did
not reach the tsunami victims of 2004 (Getty Images)
Almost 12 years after the tsunami, there are Muslim victims in the
East living in makeshift camps ignored by the government, authorities
and their own politicians.
Five hundred houses built by the Saudi Government for Muslim tsunami
victims continue to rot and fall apart in dilapidated states with the
entire complex being turned into a virtual jungle.
Though the government changed, the bureaucracy almost remain the
same. In fact, Minister Kabir Hashim even filed a case against the then
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa accusing him of playing out tsunami
aid. However, it is common knowledge that one could not expect justice
from a politicised judiciary under Rajapaksa regime. Thus the suspicion
whether the foreign aid for recent victims of natural disaster will end
up in the same fate?
During the tsunami disaster, then President Chandrika Kumaratunga,
who was in London, rushed home and assured that their houses would be
rebuilt within six months. But these promises disappeared in the same
way of the tsunami waves, despite billions of rupees given by countries,
organizations and individuals to help tsunami victims.
While tsunami victims were languishing in appalling conditions in
inhospitable temporary shelters, there began to emerge reports of
corruption highlighting to what extent human beings could descend in
exploiting even human misery and sufferings for their own benefit.
According to a report by the then Auditor-General, S.C. Mayadunne,
“government officials misspent or misappropriated hundreds of thousands
of dollars worth of tsunami aid after failing to follow instructions.
Officials gave millions of rupees in tsunami assistance to thousands of
families who were not directly affected while others displaced by the
tsunami did not even get the rations they were entitled to.”
According to reports, Sri Lanka received US$ 3.2 billion in foreign
Tsunami waves did not discriminate on the basis of race, caste,
religion, colour, language or any such artificial barriers. Instead,
proving that nature doesn’t pick and choose to destroy, these waves from
the very same sea which generously provided them livelihood for
generations wiped out all alike without any discrimination. However
there was blatant racism in helping tsunami victims on the basis of race
In the absence of proper account-keeping, many believe that only a
fraction of the aid actually went to the real victims and it was
impossible to track down what happened to the cash. Official figures are
often contradictory, but even the state admits only about half of the
damaged or destroyed homes have been rebuilt as the country marked the
tragedy’s anniversary. God only knows whether the money was spent on
tsunami victims or anybody else!
The government accused non-governmental organizations for the slow
progress and it is like the pot calling the kettle black, and there has
been large-scale corruption in delivering aid,” said a top TEFREN
executive who pointed out that local and international charities,
numbering nearly 400, were flooded with donations and overwhelmed by the
unprecedented funding while many NGOs wasted the money.
“Some who were not even affected by the tsunami got houses. Some got
two or three boats while others did not get any. They put too much
emphasis on urgency and did not adhere to accounting standards. The
tsunami in many ways was a blessing in disguise to the government.
Under the headline “Merry times for tsunami racketeers” this is what
a report in the “Island” of 26 December 2006 said, “Even years after the
tsunami, the government is yet to punish State officials accountable for
waste, corruption and negligence in the aftermath of the unprecedented
“Inquiries reveal that the government has failed to initiate action
against them despite clear evidence of wasteful expenditure on a large
scale. Politicians have connived with officials to help their supporters
play out funds and in some cases, further the interests of their
associates. They have profited from crooked deals involving crooked
means, hiring of vehicles and compensation for damaged and destroyed
“The then ruling coalition ignored an interim report by the Auditor
General’s Department, which details a series of irregularities. The
report has dealt with questionable transactions. It is critical of
lapses on the part of the General Treasury, Central Bank and the
Customs. Under a section titled Limitation on Procuring Information for
Audit, the Auditor General (AG) has said that the Central Bank ignored a
call to provide information on tsunami funds.
The AG’s Department has been particularly harsh on several Divisional
Secretariats in the East and South. This report is still gathering dust.
The report called for an in-depth police investigation. Unfortunately,
the Rajapaksa government ignored that call, and thereby allowed a group
of corrupt officials and their political masters to go scot free.” Many
who were awaiting aid said that they didn’t know where the aid money
went but they were still living in single room wooden houses. According
to one report, money was feverishly transferred not only to government
establishments, but also to accounts of individuals, companies and
charity organisations; so much so that a report by The Tsunami
Evaluation coalition (TEC), under former US President Bill Clinton,
suggested that Sri Lanka was over-aided and the island should be the
best and the most efficiently reconstructed.
Sri Lanka’s deputy executive director of the anti-graft organisation
Rukshana Nanayakkara said: “it was almost impossible to find out what
happened to the cash. According to an initial government audit only 13
percent of the aid was spent during the first year of reconstruction,
but since then there has been no formal examination of accounts.”
Hundreds of tsunami survivors had complained to the graft buster against
local and international aid agencies. He added that, “there has been no
proper accounts maintained on the aid money and we believe that only a
fraction of the aid trickled down to the real victims”.