Home » News

Sri Lanka’s tsunami recovery dogged by graft, delays

[AFP, Wednesday, 23 December 2009 09:36 No Comment]

Billions of dollars were pledged after the 2004 Asian tsunami to help people like Pradeepa Niroshani who waited in vain for money to rebuild her destroyed home.

Five years after the disaster, the government in Sri Lanka is under pressure from a leading anti-corruption group to account for nearly half of the 2.2 billion dollars pledged to the country by official foreign donors.

Niroshani, 26, a mother of two and wife of a fisherman, escaped from her house shortly before it was destroyed on December 26, 2004, wearing just night clothes and some jewellery, which she has since sold.

"We never got a house with the tsunami aid money. Only broken promises," Niroshani told AFP in the palm-fringed village of Rathgama, 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.

Selling her jewellery, a last resort that has left her without any financial security, enabled her to buy a new brick residence for 350,000 rupees (3,100 dollars) from another tsunami survivor who had received an aid-built home.

Such tales are common in Sri Lanka, where allegations of unfulfilled cash pledges, missing money and corrupt officials have erupted ever since 31,000 people died and one million were initially left homeless by the tsunami.

Transparency International, a global watchdog on corruption, says that more than a billion dollars in aid from foreign donors remains unaccounted for.

"We don’t know what happened," Rukshana Nanayakkara, Sri Lanka’s deputy director of the anti-graft organisation, said. "The money is missing after it came into various government agencies.

"The government, we believe, used the tsunami money for other purposes. But officials don’t talk on the record for fear of reprisal."

An initial government audit in the first year of reconstruction found that less than 13 percent of the aid had been spent, and there has been no formal examination of accounts since, said Nanayakkara.

The Nation Building ministry counted 8,865 people still in temporary shelters at the last census in 2007.

It said that 119,092 houses had been built — 20,000 more than was initially estimated.

But while there is an excess of supply in the island’s Sinhalese-majority south, some Tamils in the conflict-hit north and east remain inside plastic shelters in open ground.

A 37-year-old ethnic conflict between Tamil Tigers rebels and the government ended in May, and tsunami rebuilding has been slow due to years of heavy fighting.

A total of 2.2 billion dollars was given to Sri Lanka by official donors including Japan, the World Bank and UN agencies, according to the central bank, but this figure does not account for pledges from charities or private individuals.

Nanayakkara said the absence of a Right to Information law made it difficult for tsunami survivors, aid agencies and charities to keep tabs on the cash and monitor progress.

Complaints by tsunami survivors against local and international agencies have also fallen on deaf years.

"We have petitioned the president, ministers and local politicians against poor quality construction and lack of facilities, but nothing happened," said W. Ariyapala, a retired government servant from Seenigama in the island’s south.

The World Bank, which recently concluded an audit of its 150-million-dollar tsunami rebuilding work, said a multitude of government agencies slowed down recovery programmes leaving room for misuse of funds.

Sri Lanka was forced to refund the bank in cases where funds were misused. The Bank said the government had bought 168 motorcycles for other work and claimed them from tsunami aid budgets.

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.