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How can we ensure every penny of aid is accounted for in Nepal?

Written by Guest on Monday, 18 May 2015

In the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal and surrounding areas in India and Tibet, TI Nepal executive director Ashish Thapa assesses what should be done to ensure aid reaches those in need and is not diverted or misused by those in power.


  

This blog was originally published in The Guardian’s Comment is Free on 15 May 2015 by Transparency International Nepal executive director Ashish Thapa.

 

It is absolutely critical that the millions of dollars committed to relief efforts in Nepal reach those who need it most and are not diverted or misused by those in power. Even though corruption is a risk it is never a reason to turn away from people in need after a disaster has hit their country.

The best way to ensure the aid reaches those in need is through a coordinated, transparent response. This is not easy, given that the earthquake has overwhelmed the country’s government, transport and other vital channels to deliver goods and services.

In the latest study by Transparency International in 2013 90% of people surveyed in Nepal said political parties were corrupt or extremely corrupt and 85% said the same of public officials and civil servants, making these two groups the two weakest institutions in Nepal.

The government of Nepal has to make an increased commitment to transparency. While the prime minister’s relief fund could help to better track and control aid so that it is strategically administered it also comes with risks if there is no accountability or transparency. The fund has raised concerns with some who say that funnelling money this way risks politicising the aid distribution process. Money could end up where politicians want it instead of where it is needed most.

The injection of large amounts of money into resource-poor economies where institutions have been damaged increases the opportunities for the abuse of power. There is often pressure to disburse aid rapidly and there are immense organisational challenges in suddenly expanding the scope and scale of programme delivery.

But centralising aid can speed up disbursement and can be a way to monitor where it goes if the right people and processes are in place. We strongly believe that aid must be accountable to the population and there needs to be information sharing and engagement with communities so they can exercise oversight and report cases of aid diversion.

As a first step, the government must commit to publishing how the aid money is being spent and use all the channels that will reach people across Nepal, even in hard-to-reach communities. At the same time, the aid coming into the country should be reported through the Financial Tracking System managed by the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The website for the prime minister’s relief fund is another key piece in the transparency process something that both citizens of Nepal and the aid community can use as a focal point of important information, if it can provide timely and relevant updates. A potential model was developed in the Philippines after the super typhoon of 2013.

This is not an attempt to introduce a level of bureaucracy that will hinder help reaching the needy. It works as a deterrent for those who seek to profit from disaster by showing a strong commitment to accountability. The fund should publicly and proactively provide information on the following items:

  • itemised list of donations by donor (individual anonymous, government, NGO, multilateral) and medium (cash/non-cash)
  • consolidated total of donations (individual, anonymous, government, NGO, multilateral) and medium (cash/non-cash)
  • an itemised list of spending, broken out by donor
  • consolidated list of spending
  • real-time and regular reporting of money received and spent, as well as geo-mapping of areas where spending is done
  • mapping of donations to spending categories
  • online discussion forum for questions/comments to be raised on donations and spending
  • a means to report corruption/complaints by communities and individuals about spending/relief.

While the effect of a single diversion of relief goods may not even show up in aid agency accounts, it can be devastating for the person or family for whom the relief resources can make the difference between survival and starvation, dignity or desperation.

The key lesson that we have learned is that ordinary people and donors need to know what is happening all along the way. The above checklist is a good start and will help provide the confidence that money is well spent and spur further donations.

Ashish Thapa is the executive director of Transparency International Nepal.

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Read 1115 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 November 2015 10:07

Guest

The TI-UK blog features thought and opinion from guest writers as well as TI staff. Any opinions expressed by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International UK.

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