Kadirgamar calls on donors to set up tsunami reconstruction maintenance fund
Rodney Martinesz reporting from London
(Published in the Daily News, Colombo - 17/3/2005)
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has called on all donor agencies engaged in tsunami reconstruction work in Sri Lanka to set up a special "maintenance fund" to ensure the work does not fall apart due to want of funds.
He said this in the context of the vast financial resources poured into capital expenditure at present and the chances of the Government in the end being saddled with the maintenance of funds to ensure tsunami reconstruction projects are completed. This could blow a big hole in the government's national budget, he said. The Minister reiterated that the Government will take all measures to ensure transparency and accountability in the handling of its own funds and that in the case of the NGOs the responsibility was theirs.
The Minister was meeting the International Federation of Red Cross in Geneva on Tuesday. The IFRC has already presented a US$ 340 million "Draft Action Plan" for post-tsunami Sri Lanka which includes the reconstruction of 15,000 homes destroyed in the tidal wave.
The Lankan Foreign Minister also stressed the need for preventing any imbalances in society through the perception of special treatment of tsunami victims and wanted the donors to enhance the scope of their assistance to cover other areas and sectors.
The Minister urged the donors to employ local talent wherever possible in reconstruction work. "As a matter of policy the Government will not be concerned with the day-to-day micro issues of NGO funded reconstruction activity".
The Minister also called on the NGOs to take pro-active measures to dispel the spurious propaganda that the North-East has been sidelined in the tsunami reconstruction plan.
The Minister was also given an assurance by the Red Cross group that they would not condone religious conversions under the cover of the tsunami tragedy. "I asked them to wield some influence among their compatriots to stop this," the Minister told the press.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn yesterday paid a handsome compliment to Sri Lanka for the rapid progress being achieved in tsunami relief work.
He conveyed this impression to Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar at their official meeting in London. Minister Kadirgamar repeated his complaint made the previous day to Secretary to State for Foreign Affairs Jack Straw on the acquisition of verified air capability by the LTTE.
Minister Kadirgamar thanked the British Government for the latter's decision to absorb 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's debt commitments to the multi lateral donor community for a period of 10 years.
The Secretary of State who visited the tsunami ravaged East in January told the Minister that he was impressed with the immediate relief operations and got the idea that the operation was well organised.
Minister Kadirgamar suggested the need for a review mechanism with the Government and NGOs which will benefit reconstruction work in the long haul. Benn also stressed the importance an early warning system for Sri Lanka.