The Sunday Leader

Govt. Must Monitor All Relief Funds And Prevent Swindling – Dharmalingam Siddharthan

By Camelia Nathaniel and Ashanthi Warunasuriya

PLOTE leader and TNA MP Dharmalingam Siddharthan said that the recent floods are a good reminder to the government that proper management of development is needed to prevent such situations in the future. He said that roads and railway lines as well as development projects are being done without proper evaluation on the environmental impact, and as a result the people have to face such situations as floods that we experienced recently. In an interview with The Sunday Leader he said that the government also needs to formulate and keep a close tab on all the relief funds that have been set up throughout the country in order to avert a situation such as during the Tsunami, where funds collected for relief was swindled.

Following are excerpts of the interview:


Q:  With the recent floods affecting many areas of the country, are you satisfied with the relief efforts of the government, and do you think the system that was set in place was efficient enough?

A: Naturally what happens anywhere when there is a disaster is that the government gets blamed that the efforts taken had not been adequate. I have seen all over the world including India, that this has been the trend. However I must say that the government is trying to do their best and they were wholeheartedly assisted by the Non-Governmental Organisations and the social organisations. This disaster was unprecedented and naturally there will be complaints. However the government should take care of the people and especially in situations like the one we just experienced, they have to go all out to provide relief for the effected people effectively. I don’t think that the disaster management system was prepared to face such a situation like what we experienced recently. So we have to revamp the whole system and restructure a proper system.

The government now faces the task of assisting these people to rebuild their lives. It will take time as we have to manage with the resources we have within the country.

But having said that we are receiving aid from many countries and organisations and even the Diaspora and as such the government now needs to coordinate the relief efforts to reach those who need assistance the most.


Q: Don’t you think that we need a better system at ground level and GS divisional level to respond spontaneously to such disasters?

A: Yes certainly that has to be done. We should have a proper system where help is sent immediately to people in dire need, without any delay. If the whole process is going to be handled by one body, then invariably there is bound to be shortcomings as the rescue teams etc will have no prior knowledge of the areas and as such getting to the victims or those affected will take a longer time. Moreover some areas may get more help so if we have a system where it is coordinated at ground level, and then it would be much easier to coordinate the relief efforts more effectively.


Q. Do you agree that flooding of certain areas is mainly due to improper planning in constructing roads and buildings?

A: Building of roads railways and some buildings etc has not been designed properly and it blocks the proper flow of water. The canal system too should be properly cleaned and maintained in order to prevent flooding. The problem is that these are not maintained properly. Even in Jaffna this is the problem we are facing. First of all the preventive system should be done properly.

Even the land slides, proper testing should be done prior to building houses etc on the slopes of these hilly areas. The government should also have a proper mechanism where housing in urban areas is concerned and filling of marsh lands and other water retaining areas should be totally prohibited. In Colombo and the suburbs what I feel is that improper planning and ad hock building is the main reason that has caused the flooding. It’s high time that the government take note of these issues and device a proper system to prevent such mistakes.


Q: During the recent flood, one of the main things we saw was that certain politicians and other institutions were engaged in their own distribution of relief etc to gain publicity. This according to residents was doing more harm than good and was hampering the relief measures. How do you see this?

A:  Yes certainly. We saw that these parties who were scrambling for attention were getting in the way of organised relief work. In some areas people got more than they required as everyone was scrambling to give out food stuff etc, and some parties were just throwing away the food parcels. This also leads to some parties just collecting these items not out of necessity but greed. On the other hand some remote areas were not getting anything at all, and those people were really suffering.

Hence politicians should also focus and be committed to helping the people in all areas, rather than simply doing it for attention and publicity.

Further when it comes to the relief measures the government cannot do it on their own either. Hence just like the social organisations, the politicians too should join the main mechanism and assist the people.On the other hand it is the duty of the politicians to be with the people in times like these. So I wont blame the politicians for going to see to the needs of the people affected, but they should do it genuinely and not for personal glory. I must say that the majority of them genuinely went to help the people in need.


Q: Many funds have been set up for relief and rebuilding measures. But shouldn’t there be a proper mechanism of accountability and transparency where these funds are concerned in order to prevent these being misused?

A:   During the Tsunami many such incidents took place. Some people came to Sri Lanka on the pretext of being NGO’s and collected monies claiming to build houses for people whose houses had been damaged. However it was later revealed that these parties had run off with the collected money. These parties collected a lot of money from the international community also and they vanished. So that sort of thing should not happen and the government should have a proper mechanism to monitor all these organisations and make sure crooks are not allowed to exploit the plight of the affected people in order to gain from it. This is the duty of the government.

Further there must be proper transparency of the whole exercise and the government should have proper control of all the funds collected. In the past we have seen a lot of crooks taking advantage of a disaster system and this should be stopped at any cost. The funds should go to the affected people.


Q: What was the situation in the Northern Province and how were the people affected?

A: The people of the North were not as badly affected as those in the South and central province. The local government was able to manage the situation in the North with their available resources. Only damage was that most of the farmers lost their harvest.


Q: Will the farmers who lost their crops be compensated by the government?

A: In the North there is a lot of damage to Banana plantations and other minor crops. I was told by the government officials however that they don’t give compensation for minor crops. So the people here are in deep trouble. The government only gives compensation for paddy tea and rubber etc. Therefore we have to discuss with the government and see what we can do for these farmers of minor crops whose crops were destroyed by the bad weather.



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