Sri Lanka's Shame

May 28, 2005

Five months after the tsunami, as Peter Foster reports today, more than 100,000 Sri Lankans are living in tents or huts with leaking tin roofs that bake them during the day and soak them at night. And who is to blame for this state of affairs? Not the charity workers, nor the United Nations, nor the international aid agencies. It is the fault of the Sri Lankans' own government and its wretched public officials.

In the past, the corrupt bureaucracy of certain developing nations has either been ignored by the West (for reasons of political correctness) or has provided raw material for the satirical insights of travel writers. But in these circumstances it is little short of wicked.

The Sri Lankan victims' plight would be understandable if there was a shortage of money to rebuild their villages. But nothing could be further from the truth: 1.75 billion in the tsunami war chest has been earmarked for Sri Lanka alone. The money is not being spent because the Colombo government refuses to delegate authority on the ground, to revise its ludicrous bureaucratic procedures, to root out corruption or to speed up the snail's pace of supplies through customs.

Merlin, the charity to which Telegraph readers donated 6.2 million, has worked wonders despite these obstacles, building temporary clinics along the island's devastated east coast. But it has been unable to rebuild seven permanent health facilities because the government committees required to authorise the plans have yet to meet for the first time.

One detail above all illustrates the madness of this situation. Countless victims are still waiting for compensation because the government is demanding to see documents that were swept away in the tsunami.

There is only one way to solve this problem, and that is to hold up the Sri Lankan government to the ridicule and contempt of world opinion. As it happens, Bill Clinton arrives in Sri Lanka today: perhaps he is the man to do it.

Telegraph, UK

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Posted May 31, 2005