More than 4 million people in the Philippines have been made homeless by Typhoon Haiyan, thousands are injured and there is fear that health epidemics will take hold if the clean-up effort is delayed.
The death toll is likely to top 4,000 in the coming days. Against this backdrop of disaster, US$270 million has been pledged and relief is beginning to reach the far-flung corners of the island nation.
But the warnings have started too: corruption could hamper the aid effort; be careful who you give your money to.
When disaster strikes the spectre of corruption should not limit aid efforts or lessen donations because of the thousands of people who will suffer more if it does. For this to happen, the authorities and the aid agencies have to work together to take practical and visible actions to mitigate the risk of corruption.
Key steps to preventing corruption in aid
The Philippines has in the recent past tried to improve its anti-corruption efforts and the current president, Benigno Aquino III, came to office in 2010 on an anti-corruption platform. But the country faces particular problems because of its poor track record in the past. The former president Ferdinand Marcos and his wife became global symbols of how dictators plunder their countries with impunity. The day disaster struck, the top news story was the corruption trial of officials and businesses accused of diverting money from poverty programmes. The country is ranked only 105 out of 176 countries in the 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Over the years, money that should have gone to developing infrastructure and health services, for example, was too often siphoned off by corruption. This is adding to the difficulty of responding to the disaster as poor roads and services hamper aid distribution and too many properties were destroyed because of inferior construction.
The government appears to understand that this poor reputation hurts its ability to raise money from international donors. This week President Aquino announced his government will make all aid efforts for Typhoon Haiyan transparent via a new online platform, the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub. Aid agencies are reiterating that their own practices include anti-corruption measures.
The government has shown it will be transparent in the disbursement of humanitarian aid, but we will see if this remains the case in the weeks and months to come. If the government is serious about fighting corruption, we hope to see generous and efficient efforts to serve the public in the rehabilitation of affected areas."
– Dr Cleo Calimbahin, executive director, Transparency International Philippines
In the longer term, however, there are key steps that governments and donors can take together to ensure that aid for both humanitarian disasters and for poverty relief and development is used for the benefit of those who are suffering.
Transparency International’s 2011 policy paper on making aid effective lists a series of recommendations, including:
- Governments must endorse and implement the International Aid Transparency Initiative as the common standard for donors to report transparently on their aid flows. Some donors have also adopted these standards and provide information about aid disbursements on a daily basis.
- Partner countries should ensure grants and loans on the revenue and expenditure side of the budget are published to guarantee that aid remains primarily accountable to its citizens.
- Donor and partner countries must establish indicators to track both outcomes and the integrity of processes involved in converting developmental resources – including aid – into developmental outcomes.
- Partner countries can pro-actively create platforms that allow elected representatives to review the budget with their constituency and inform them about their entitlements.
- Where one partner perceives a high risk of corruption, it needs to address that risk by designing the aid project or programme and structuring financial transactions to mitigate the problem and enable cooperation.
The risk of corruption in humanitarian aid is well-understood. The need to marshal huge amounts of money, supplies and the means to deliver them in a short period puts enormous strain on relief efforts.
In 2010 Transparency International, working with leading aid agencies, published the handbook Preventing corruption in humanitarian operations, a practical guide to developing the systems and procedures that mitigate these risks.
Transparency International Philippines, the local chapter of Transparency International, is discussing ways to help ensure aid gets to the people who need it most.
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