Friday, January 7, 2005

Tsunami Relief -- Credibility issue

Money is pouring into the government kitty as well as those of NGOs and other private organisations. Yesterday at the Tsunami Relief Conference in Jakarta, Kofi Annan said some 4 billion dollars is needed for reconstruction and he expressed fears that all the assured sums may not materialise. Some papers carried photos of relief workers counting currency notes that have come in. Now, this is hard cash. The amounts of money that have indeed materialised; though it may be just a small fraction of what is needed.

But sadly there is lot of talk on whether the money will indeed reach the victims. At the root of it is the issue of trust and perception. Whether it is in India or the US or Europe, when you send a cheque. there is absolutely no way of knowing how that particular amount of money has ended up. You can track it, only if you specifically sponsore a project, where you can then ask the project manager what has been done with the X amount of money that you gave.

Now here is a case where all and sundry have invited help; and equally all and sundry have sent cheques. If you didn't have faith you wouldn't have paid. And if you have paid you have done that to an organisation which you trust. Since in this mass contribution scenario, there is no way of tracking the individual sums of money, we all who have contributed have only one option: be optimistic and hope that every paisa has been utilised well.

As mentioned the credibility issue has largely got to do with our perception of the system that we live in. The government could have done much more. Instead of merely saying we need lots of aid, the central government and Jayalalithaa government could have instituted a well-publicised and clearly visible Tsunami Relief Coordinating Agency, under the command of a group of public servants who enjoy a lot of respect and admiration in the eyes of the public.

Instead of getting people to send money to PM's and CM's Relief Fund (which is not specifically for Tsunami, but for all disasters), the govt should have got people to send money to this government Agency. To tackle the multiplicity of private organsations, this Agency should have put out a list of such organisations that are trust-worthy (after duly examining their credentials.) And, this Agency should have given free access to the media, so that the whole exercise is absolutely transparent. Now, this would have boosted the credibility of the relief fund enormously. And, there would have been fewer skeptics around.

The Agency could then have announced that it has received this much sum: out of which so much is being spent of this, so much on that etc. A detailed income - expenditure account should be published. And, when people see for themselves that what was planned has actually materialised, they develop trust and faith in the system. Something that our country lacks horribly.

It is not that the US or the West in general is free of corruption. Crooks are there too. But still why people say "In the West things are much better"? It's because one, corruption is minimal, and two, in spite of corruption things work.

In the US you may not know where your contribution of $50 has gone. But, you see a lot of relief and rehabilitation taking place, through a systematic and transparent mechanism. Here, neither you know where your Rs 1,000 has gone nor you see a very efficient network putting things back in order. If the latter is set right, the former will take care of itself.

It's not enough that India just tells world that we don't need foreign aid, we can well look after ourselves. We need to show ourselves first that we can indeed look after ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. very true indeed. The idea of a co-ordinating agency is all good; but who is ready to do it? Neither the Centre nor the State are ready to tackle it in a systematic manner and both are keen to garner as much money as possible in the name of aid.
    If not anything else, why can't the media and other social organisation highlight this aspect of a transparent agency and at least make people aware of this wonderful idea? Why aren't journalists, who are more keen to report on personal stories of victims, ready to highlight this point and why aren't edits being written about this?? why? why? why?