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In the wake of disaster: Preventing corruption in tsunami relief and reconstruction

In the space of a few hours on 26th December 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe on an unprecedented scale. The disaster left nearly 300,000 dead and thousands of coastal communities destroyed. One estimate of the cost of recovery for the affected region is US$ 11.5 billion (Asian Development Bank Review, April 2005). In response, a massive humanitarian effort ensued. Members of the public, governments, charities and international organisations pledged billions of dollars in emergency aid and longer term assistance to affected countries. The sudden flow of large amounts of money, goods and services to the affected region has, however, fed widespread fears of monetary losses due to corruption, waste and mismanagement.

Corruption in the delivery of aid undermines the very spirit of humanitarian action: to 'do no harm'. Relief supplies - including food, water, medicines and shelter- can, as a result of corruption, be diverted away from affected communities or distributed inequitably. This, in turn, can have fatal consequences for many individuals and can force desperate households to engage in other, often illegal, means in order to survive. The long term reconstruction required after major disasters is particularly prone to corruption due to a tendency to bypass standard procedures to ensure rapid rebuilding. Improper planning or contracting processes that favour particular interest groups can, for example, result in sub-standard or inappropriately located roads and housing or lead to commercial interests acquiring land at the expense of former owners who are 'relocated'. Such outcomes ignore the needs of survivors, often further marginalising those from the poorest sections of society. Preventing opportunities for corruption in relief and reconstruction efforts is therefore key to ensuring effective and equitable assistance to those in greatest need.

Following the tsunami, Transparency International (TI) has worked to address the risk of corruption in relief and reconstruction efforts on several levels. Its national chapters in affected countries have sought to strengthen the accountability of relief operations by, for example, advocating proper accountability by all stakeholders, organising coalitions of local NGOs and communities to monitor aid delivery and establishing appropriate management systems for such NGOs.

At the regional level, the TI-Secretariat has helped bring together key stakeholders at an "Expert Meeting on Corruption Prevention in Tsunami Relief" held in Jakarta on 7-8 April 2005. The meeting, jointly convened with the Asian Development Bank and OECD, saw representatives of affected countries, international donors and civil society identify concrete measures to ensure that aid efforts are not tainted by corruption (see the key conclusions from the Jakarta Expert Meeting below).

Globally, TI plans to help build on the humanitarian community's work to increase transparency and accountability by facilitating dialogue on anti-corruption measures for future humanitarian crises. Ultimately, TI's goal is to help ensure that affected individuals and communities can rebuild their lives without enduring additional hardship due to the corrupt misuse of aid.

Key Conclusions:

Expert Meeting on Corruption Prevention in Tsunami Relief,
7-8 April 2005, Jakarta, Indonesia

  • Governments of affected countries, in dialogue with local communities, civil society, donors and the private sector, should commit to translate their national reconstruction strategies into prioritised, results-oriented operational programs.
  • Donors should commit to respect affected countries' leadership in relief and reconstruction efforts and help strengthen their capacity to exercise it.
  • From the earliest stages of relief, through to the design, implementation and evaluation of long-term projects, affected communities should be enabled to articulate their needs, assist in devising reconstruction plans, as well as evaluate end-results.
  • Governments, public and private donors, international organisations and local civil society organisations, should implement comprehensive and harmonised information strategies that uphold internationally recognised access to information standards. Such strategies should make use of appropriate formats and local languages to ensure ease of access by local communities.
  • All stakeholders should jointly commit to maintain adequate accounts and provide timely, transparent, comprehensive and accessible information on programming, aid flows and on expenditure.
  • National aid tracking systems should be developed containing information comprehensive enough to respond to government and donor exigencies yet simple enough to be accessible by affected communities. International organisations and donors should support the development and maintenance of such systems, as well as collate national information for cross-country comparison and implement compatible international tracking systems.
  • Effective internal control and external auditing should be complemented by community-led approaches, such as people's audits, that reinforce accountability towards affected peoples. Such approaches should be promoted by governments and by donors and all stakeholders should implement necessary action to rectify problems identified.
  • Affected countries should provide accessible grievance procedures including corruption reporting channels and protection for whistleblowers in the context of humanitarian relief and reconstruction efforts, including for private and public sector employees, the media and the general public.
  • Donors should coordinate both with governments and among themselves and establish a regular dialogue to avoid duplication of programming. Similarly, non-governmental actors should also coordinate with governments and among themselves and seek, where appropriate, cooperation with other stakeholders.
  • Institutional capacity development should aim at ensuring that the public procurement legal and regulatory frameworks of affected countries adequately address disaster situations. Public contracts should contain an explicit anti-corruption clause embodying effective sanctions for breach, and ethics training and codes of conduct should be provided to procurement staff. While processes may be accelerated to reflect urgency, competitive bidding and other measures to promote cost effective corruption free procurement should not be bypassed except according to appropriate predetermined criteria in exceptional cases.
  • For aid funded procurement, donors should rely on the affected country's procurement system if the latter corresponds to mutually agreed standards or, if this is not the case, should agree to other harmonised systems.

Related Documents:

  • Jakarta Expert Meeting Conclusions and Framework for Action: Full Text
    Conclusions Jakarta tsunami anti-corruption meeting.pdf 135.59 kB
  • Issue Paper: Managing the Risks of Corruption in Humanitarian Relief Operations, Barnaby Willitts-King and Paul Harvey, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute
    tsu_harvey.pdf 286.05 kB
  • Issue Paper: Facilitating Effective and Transparent Procurement and Implementation: Needs Assessment, Contracting and Execution, Michael Wiehen, Transparency International Germany
    tsu_wiehen.pdf 96.32 kB
  • Issue Paper: Ensuring Effective Project Monitoring and Evaluation in Tsunami Relief Operations: Exploring the Role of Community Feedback Mechanisms, Gopakumar Krishnan Thampi, Chief of Programmes, Public Affairs Foundation, Bangalore, India
    tsu_tampi.pdf 186.13 kB
  • Issue Paper: Corruption Prevention in Tsunami Relief: Effective Anti-Corruption Enforcement and Complaint-Handling Mechanisms - the Malaysian Experience, Abu Kassim Bin Mohamad, Director, Pulau Penang, Anti-Corruption Agency of Malaysia
    tsu_muhamad.pdf 140.95 kB
  • Background Paper: Opportunities for Corruption in a Celebrity Disaster, Peter Walker, Director, Feinstein International Famine Center, Tufts University
    tsu_walker.pdf 118.92 kB

    Selected Additional Information

  • Excerpts from TI's Global Corruption Report 2005
  • Interviews
  • Selected press releases
  • News Stories
  • Links to National Chapters
  • Relevant Documents by other Organisations

Excerpts from TI's Global Corruption Report 2005

  • Earthquake destruction: construction on the fault line, J. Stewart
    earthquake_destruction.pdf 85.42 kB
  • Exposing the foundations of corruption in construction, N. Stansbury
    corruption_in_construction.pdf 241.37 kB
  • TI's minimum standards for public contracting
    ti_minimum_standards.pdf 94.69 kB


J.C.Weliamuna, Executive Director, TI Sri Lanka

Following the tsunami of December 2004, TI's national chapter in Sri Lanka has been at the forefront of efforts to prevent corruption in humanitarian relief and reconstruction. According to the organization's Executive Director, J. C. Weliamuna, the lack of visible political will to fight corruption in post-tsunami reconstruction is threatening to divert aid from those who need it most.

Why is there a risk of corruption in the delivery of aid following the tsunami in Sri Lanka?

There are seven main reasons why aid delivery is prone to corruption:

i) The current accountability framework in Sri Lanka is extremely weak and there is a lack of legal provision for financial accountability. The Parliamentary Oversight Committees, the Auditor General's department as well as the Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption are generally lacking powers and are not independent. The Bribery Commission does not even have suo moto powers.

ii) Furthermore, the lack of a national strategy and failure to streamline allocation in the reconstruction and relief efforts, coupled with minimal supervision, will undoubtedly result in lop-sided distribution and abuses of discretion on a geographic, beneficiary and industry basis.

iii) The lack of a long-term follow-up mechanism on the part of the donor governments, organizations or individuals - as the monies are grants and not loans - will also enhance possibilities of systemic financial abuses.

iv) TI Sri Lanka strongly feels that there is an absence of visible political will to fight corruption in post-tsunami reconstruction. The need of the hour is for strong and committed leadership to address the phenomenon of corruption.

v) There is a lack of legislative enactments - such as right to information measures, disclosure laws and whistleblower protection statutes - to empower affected communities and citizens.

vi) To date, there has been no enactment of disclosure norms for all relief and reconstruction activities.

vii) Lack of consultation in the decision-making process of affected persons, civil society and professionals.

What are the main aspects of aid delivery that are vulnerable to corruption in Sri Lanka?

The most vulnerable areas are: tender procedures in both services and procurement, including imports; expenditure control procedures; appointments to all key positions; the operation of implementing agencies; and land allocation.

How difficult has it been to raise awareness of the danger of corruption in tsunami aid?

Awareness raising efforts of the dangers of corruption in tsunami aid have been straightforward and fairly well received. The various steps taken by TI Sri Lanka (such as issuing press releases, forming coalitions, issuing concrete proposals) have received wide coverage by the media and have generated a regular debate in various forums.

The only obstacles faced have been from the government sector. On various occasions, recommendations and proposals submitted have not received so much as an acknowledgement. Upon raising the potential threat of corruption in the aid process, there was also a baseless allegation that TI Sri Lanka is being partisan. These allegations are essentially made by political appointees in the government.

There is a general tendency in the government to label any organization or individual that criticises their policies as partisan. Notwithstanding this, we have been working effectively with most public institutions.

What kind of activities have you been carrying-out to address corruption in tsunami aid efforts in Sri Lanka?

Firstly, we issued a press release on 31st December 2004 requiring unity to rebuild the country while stressing the importance of maintaining accountability. This can be see on our website. We also had internal discussions from which evolved a set of proposals to the government with regard to integrity and accountability. We volunteered to assist the government on their accountability structures. We were also instrumental in organising a meeting of civil society organisations and donor agencies on 28th of January 2005. This initiative was jointly organised by Sarvodaya, the largest NGO in Sri Lanka, and the Centre for Policy Alternatives, another leading Sri Lankan NGO, and the Center for Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), the leading Sri Lankan NGO handling humanitarian activities - especially active in the conflict areas in the north and east. This short seminar was funded by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Furthermore, we were invited by many NGOs to set guidelines for civil society. We in fact addressed various meetings organised by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies on this matter but could not effectively work on the guidelines. We plan to do this in future. Another step we took was to request all donors, government agencies and NGOs to disclose the donations and aid received by each of them. One political party and one donor (the Japanese Government) subsequently disclosed receipt of the donations as well as other details. We also received a request from the Free Media Movement to guide the rural journalists working in tsunami affected area on how to report on corruption. I then conducted a one-day workshop and they are testing it on the ground.

We also had detailed meetings with senior media experts on the reporting of the tsunami, in particular whether the media represent the affected people in their reporting. Based on that, we conducted a sample survey which broke new ground. The analysis is still ongoing but a report will be ready within a month. This work was also funded by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

We also actively took part in the Jakarta meeting jointly organised by TI, the OECD and ADB, and issued a position paper on this. Thereafter, TI Sri Lanka together with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka, organised a seminar on the 11th of May on reconstruction after disaster. Another event we undertook was organising an "Idea Competition." The purpose is to gather public opinion on strategies to prevent corruption in post tsunami reconstruction. We are hoping to start this campaign at the end of May.

Lastly, we began a new programme called "Value for Money Auditing" by civil society. This is an idea developed by TI Sri Lanka following discussions with the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Institute of Engineers and the Institute of Architects. This project will most likely begin in June. By doing this, we will be conducting detailed sample audits by professionals with the assistance of affected people and civil society organisations. We are in the process of finalising the project proposal for this.

Have you had any initial successes in addressing the issue of corruption in tsunami aid?

Yes, our successes include:

i) A commitment of co-operation from the Institute of Architects, the Institute of Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Accountants.

ii) The World Bank and Swedish International Development Agencies are now considering a report we have submitted to them.

iii) We have also had numerous requests for information and expert input from UN organisations and from the ADB.

What would you like to see happen - at home and abroad - to minimise the risk of corruption in tsunami aid?

In the Sri Lankan context we believe the following could minimise the risk of corruption:

i) A firm commitment by the government in terms of its political will. Clear, committed and cohesive policy statements and operational directions from the highest levels of the polity send a powerful message of uncompromising political commitment. The need of the hour is for strong and committed leadership to address the phenomenon of corruption that lurks ominously in the shadow of the various aid pledges that have been made in the wake of the tsunami disaster.

ii) The strengthening of local institutions and networks is a must to ensure community ownership and participation in relief and reconstruction activities. A point to emphasize is the need to identify and promote local expertise; there is a clear danger of applying universal templates to culture-specific contexts and creating solutions that are impractical and, what is worse, exaggerate existing problems.

iii) Empowering citizens and affected communities through enacting new legal measures such as the right to information, laws on disclosure and whistleblower protection, will go a long way in ensuring effective public participation and collaboration in rolling back corrupt practices. TI Sri Lanka strongly calls for the urgent enactment of disclosure norms for all relief and reconstruction activities.

iv) There is a growing danger that all capacity building measures on accountability and transparency will be limited to relief and reconstruction projects (mostly, due to donor compulsion) and will leave the larger domain of public institutions untouched. There is a strong need to strengthen critical institutions like the office of the Auditor General, independent commissions like the CIABOC (Bribery Commission) and the Parliamentary Oversight Committees.

v) The undercurrents of conflict embedded in the social and political fabric of the country need to be kept in perspective while designing participatory structures for the implementation and monitoring of relief and reconstruction programmes. The idea of broad-based consortiums should be promoted to make public participation more inclusive and representative.

About the interviewee: J.C.Weliamuna, Executive Director TI Sri Lanka

Mr J.C Weliamuna practices in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka. His areas of specialty are constitutional law, human rights law and labour law. He is also a human rights activist and a regular contributor to the media on accountability, human rights and constitutional issues.

Mr. Weliamuna serves as the norms coordinator of the South Asian Region of the World Confederation of Labour. He is also a bureau member of SAHR (South Asians for Human Rights), a regional NGO. He serves as the Director of Sarvodaya Legal Services Movement, the Director of the Programme for Protection of Public Resources, and is a consultant to the Migrant Workers Centre of the National Workers Congress.

Leonard Simanjuntak, Deputy Executive Director, Transparency International Indonesia

Why is there a risk of corruption in the delivery of aid following the tsunami in Indonesia?

Indonesia is known as one of the corrupt countries in the world according to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International. Corruption is rooted in every aspect of society in Indonesia because law enforcement is weak, there is no proper monitoring mechanism, the bureaucratic system nationally and locally is not transparent, and government officials always use their authority and power to gain personal benefits. Besides that, public awareness about the damaging effects of corruption is still low. With these kinds of conditions in Indonesia, the sudden flow of large amount of money, goods and services will increase the risk of misuse of the tsunami aid.

What are the main aspects of aid delivery that are vulnerable to corruption in Indonesia?

Rehabilitation and reconstruction are the main aspects of aid delivery that are vulnerable to corruption since the fund for these programs is so enormous and they will be conducted over a long timeframe (about 5 years). Corruption can easily occur during these programs if no proper accountability scheme and transparency mechanisms are applied to the government, recipients and donors.

How difficult has it been to raise awareness of the danger of corruption in tsunami aid?

Corruption has deep roots in all aspects of life in Indonesia - no activity can be completely separated from corrupt behavior. It is quite difficult to raise public awareness of the danger of corruption since corruption itself has allegedly become a "culture". The un-transparent and unaccountable bureaucratic system in Indonesia also enhances windows of opportunity for people to engage in corruption.

What kind of activities have you been carrying out to address corruption in tsunami aid efforts in Indonesia?

TI-Indonesia and other NGOs who promote transparency and accountability in tsunami aid have worked together in lobbying government to strengthen their effort to increase transparency and accountability in the delivery of tsunami aid. This effort was then realized by government through the National Planning Agency (Bappenas) by the forming of an executive body to carry out the rehabilitation and reconstruction program. To support the executive body in doing their duty transparently and accountability, Bappenas has also formed a supervisory body and steering committee for these programs. In addition, they have designed a national action plan for corruption prevention in tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction programs.

TI-Indonesia and other NGOs also held discussions and came up with suggestions to be presented at the expert meeting in Jakarta jointly organized by the ADB/OECD and TI. Suggested issues that were brought out at the meeting were: funding pledge tracking, disbursement tracking, implementation tracking, and impact tracking. Monitoring should also focus on procurement, fund allocation, cash flows, complaint mechanisms and the transparency of aid funds (both in terms of loans and grants).

Have you had any initial successes in addressing the issue of corruption in tsunami aid?

As already mentioned in the answer for question four, TI-Indonesia - which is a member of a civil society coalition providing aid to tsunami victims - has also encouraged the implementation of transparent and accountable financial reporting to donors. All aid given to recipients should have signed receipts. The receipt should state in detail the items received by the recipient.

What would you like to see happen - at home and abroad - to minimize the risk of corruption in tsunami aid?

Implementation of a national action plan for corruption prevention in tsunami aid. There is a need to balance emphasis on both donor and recipient country transparency. Donor countries should be accountable to the international community for their contribution to tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction. Accountability and transparency mechanisms can be implemented both by recipient countries and donor countries.

Selected press releases

Jakarta Expert Meeting identifies measures to prevent corruption in tsunami assistance
TI Press Release Jakarta, Indonesia, 8 April 2005

International experts address risk of corruption in tsunami relief efforts: Expert meeting on 7-8 April 2005 (PDF)
TI Press Release Berlin, 23 March 2005

TI calls for public tenders and transparent budgeting in tsunami reconstruction efforts
TI Press Release Berlin, 11 January 2005

TI Ireland calls on government to prevent corruption in wake of tsunami disaster
TI Press release Ireland, 7 January 2005

TI extends its condolences to the victims of the tsunami tragedy
TI Press Release Berlin, 3 January 2005

TISL urges for unity to rebuild Sri Lanka
TI Press Release Sri Lanka, 31 December 2004

Selected news stories

Transparency International distributes Tupperware to Aceh, 3 May 2005

Indonesia post-quake plan gets anti-graft provision
Reuters, 18 April 2005

Where tsunami ravaged, barely a sign of relief
The New York Times, 6 April 2005

UN announces auditing for tsunami relief
World News, 15 March 2005

Big charities pursue certification to quell fears of funding abuses
Wall Street Journal, 9 March 2005

Aid wasted, report says
Toronto Star, 7 March 2005

Sri Lankan tsunami survivors await help
Associated Press, 9 February 2005

Sri Lanka tsunami survivors protest corrupt aid distribution
Agence France Presse, 4 February 2005

Indonesia arrests anti-corruption activist for stealing tsunami aid
Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 27 January 2005

Corruption watchdogs keeping eye on tsunami aid, 9 January 2005

Links to TI national chapters in tsunami-affected countries

TI India

TI Indonesia

TI Sri Lanka

Proposal presented by TI Sri Lanka to ensure accountability in reconstruction aid following the tsunami

TI Thailand

Relevant documents by other organisations

  • OECD Development Assistance Committee Revised Principles for Donor Action in Anti-Corruption

    tsu_dac-principles.pdf 105.82 kB
  • Asian Development Bank-Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia-Pacific: Anti-Corruption Action Plan for Asia and the Pacific

    actionplan_english.pdf 44.69 kB

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