Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tsunami Aid swept away by Invisible Tsunami?

On 31 December 2004, 5 days after the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated our Indian Ocean region, I posted a piece of advice in Tsunami - Relief Funds - Donate Wisely! at BolehTalk, where I cut my blogging teeth.

On the relief and rehabilitation aid for those severely affected by the Boxing Day tsunami, I raised the question of which organisations we should donate to?

This was what I wrote:

I would strongly recommend that you donate to organizations that can maximise the value of your charity for the immediate relief and long term rehabilitation of the survivors of the disaster.

We would ensure this by selecting relief organizations that have (1) experience in this form of disaster relief work, (2) the trust of international governments for their impartiality in performing their dedicated role, (3) the resources, infrastructure and network contacts to conduct the relief in meaningful manner, (4) the power of their experience & network to derive maximum value for materials etc from your donation, (5) the understanding of local cultures and sensitivities of the country in which the relief is undertaken, (6) no personal or covert agency to push (like seeking personal glory or whatever), (7) the staying and driving power to keep on track what they had started out upon, (8) excellent track records of achievements under the most trying conditions – etc etc along these lines.

We need to be careful about ad hoc organizations or groups that have sprung out recently, declaring to go their independent ways. These well-intentioned people may not have at their disposal the facilities, infrastructure, organizational know-how, network contacts, purchasing power through economy of scale, recognition by and respect of local governments, or the diplomatic skills and knowledge to extract aid workers out of trouble when things turned ugly.

There are many good organizations but I don’t believe anyone can beat the track records of the
Red Cross and International Red Crescent. I have donated previously for other relief funds to the Red Cross & Red Crescent, and I’ll be doing the same again for the tsunami survivors’ relief fund. By selecting this fantastically dedicated Relief organization, I feel confident and at ease that my small donations will definitely see its way to the survivors. The Red Cross & Red Crescent’s achievements have been such that they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize three times, in 1917, 1944 and 1963.

There is another organization that has my admiration as well -
Oxfam. There may be other equally good organization of your own personal choice.

Please donate generously but donate wisely too. Thank you.

Exactly one year later, in another posting Goodbye 2005, Hello 2006! I lamented:

The most outstanding issue for 2005 for me must be the progress of the recovery post tsunami. Even 1 year later, in places like Aceh and Sri Lanka, little progress has been made. No one knows what’s happening in India, while over in the East African coastal nations of Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania, no one gives a damn for those fishermen who are still waiting for financial assistance. Thailand seems to be the only significantly affected nation that has gotten on top of its devastation.

I didn’t mention Malaysia which was also affected by the tsunami but now, as I had feared, the handling of the tsunami aid by our local agencies were severely botched. None other than Malaysia's auditor-general Ambrin Buang reported that the RM 80 million donated by Malaysians for Malaysian victims, and handled by the treasury's National Disaster Relief Fund, were badly managed, while reconstruction efforts have been shoddy.

He also criticised that relief money was passed on to victims too slowly. He said:
"There was a delay of between 24 and 527 days in disbursing RM 12.06 million in aid simply because there was a staff shortage. A lack of guidelines on how to disburse the money also contributed to the delay."

527 days? That’s 1 and one-half years too bloody late!

He also said that aid agencies had yet to return RM 6.7 million in excess funds to the treasury. Hmmm.

Ambrin observed a multitude of mismanagement in the use of the public donated aid money. For example, he pointed out poor construction standards in the repair or building of houses in the tsunami-affected states of northern Penang and Kedah, amounting to RM 9.83 million. He bemoaned issues like contracts not being signed, projects completed late and the quality of the work shoddy.

Hey, what’s new! This is Malaysia afterall.

But wait, there’s more. RM 9.84 million in aid for fishermen to repair and purchase nets, boats and motors were also mismanaged. New boats leaked and were of poor quality. Not surprisingly the fishermen rejected the boats.

The equipment to repair outboard motors was not to specifications. Additionally, the equipment could not be used as the fishermen did not have the skills. Its purchase did not come with supporting documents.

Maybe the fund managers expected the fishermen to just pull this toogle and yank that lever? Or, just give the engine a couple of kicks?

Ambrin said RM 32,180 had been spent to build a boat repair workshop, but that the workshop was never actually constructed.

Probably it was swept away by an invisible tsunami?

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