The tricky business of collecting the aid money

Cash flow problems in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is discovering the difficulties of redeeming the aid that was pledged to it after the tsunami. It has received only one-tenth of the aid that it was promised after it was hit by a tsunami two months ago. The reasons range from bureaucratic processes, to accounting gimmicks, to suspicion that the aid will be misused.

That the tsunami and rehabilitation became a political football in its civil war did not help. Compounded by reports of high-level corruption in the use of foreign aid for the tsunami victims, Sri Lanka is already cutting a sorry figure internationally.

While the civil war with the Tamil Tigers is not entirely within its control, the Sri Lankan government would do well to quickly punish high-level officials guilty of siphoning off the humanitarian aid. Appointing an international firm to audit the aid expenditure is a good idea, but it will not amount to much until Sri Lanka is able to demonstrate a strong commitment to fight official graft.

But fastidious claims clerks will be as amiss as uncaring rebels and corrupt bureaucrats if they were to hold up the disbursement of humanitarian aid — the victims of the tsunami cannot wait until corruption is totally rooted out of the Sri Lankan government. If aid is not released in a timely manner, foreign governments and multilateral organisations will be failing the spirit of the millions of donors who opened up their wallets in such an unprecedented manner.

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