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Meeting Addresses Tsunami Aid Accountability

A fishing boat sits atop a house near a refugee camp, Tuesday, March 22, 2005, in Banda Aceh
Following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean last December, billions of dollars in aid was pledged to countries hit hard by the disaster. Not too long afterward, people started expressing concern that the donated funds might be misused. International experts met in Jakarta to discuss ways to ensure the aid gets to those who need it.

The experts say transparency and accountability are the keys to safeguarding the estimated $5 billion in aid pledged for the tsunami-affected countries.

The conference was called to discuss ways to minimize corruption in the distribution of aid. It was organized by the Asian Development Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and attended by a slew of corruption experts from the public and private sectors throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Jak Jabes of the Asian Development Bank says cooperation among governments and aid donors is essential to fight corruption.

"Those stakeholders involved in tsunami assistance must ensure transparency and accountability in their operations,” said Mr. Jabes. “In particular in the management of the financial flows. For this, up-to-date information must be made actively available to any interested party."

The majority of aid will go to rebuilding Indonesia's province of Aceh, the region worst hit by the December 26 earthquake and tsunami. Indonesia is consistently rated as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and donors are worried about how well their contributions will be monitored.

Mr. Jabes says the answer to these concerns lies in organization and coordination.

"Donors should coordinate with governments and among themselves to avoid duplication of assistance schemes,” he added. “They should also establish uniform procurement rules, maintain and publish clear books and records and provide assurance of full internal and external controls. They must further make a careful assessment of the local conditions so that allocated resources match needs."

Conference participants say the meeting was the start of a long-term process of fighting corruption and promoting transparency in reconstruction aid, which will extend beyond the immediate post-tsunami period.