HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 650: 23 January 2013

Where has the money gone?

Some questions remain unanswered after Cyclone Pat devastated Aitutaki

It is almost 3 years since Cyclone Pat wreaked havoc and devastation on Aitutaki pushing Disaster Management and Recovery efforts to the limit and over time, exposing strengths and weaknesses as to the community and Government’s rapidity and response rate during times of natural disaster. In addition, the Aitutaki situation exposed a series of lessons to be learnt especially lessons in terms of administration and management of recovery processes and finances and who should take responsibility.
Overall, Aitutaki was grateful for the assistance provided by government and especially the donor support from NZ and other related international donors who heeded the call during the time of emergency and made sterling efforts to minimize loss of life, to rebuild and assist people to return to a life of normality as quickly as possible.
Government put in place effective management mechanisms to ensure the majority issues of the population and donors were addressed at the time in what was perceived to be the most viable solution particularly with housing issues under dire circumstances.
During this time, Aitutaki had prized itself on its ability to start from scratch and rebuild and they are to be congratulated for their efforts during this time. However, final reports as to the overall cost and expenditure have yet to be produced as there have been differences of opinions involving officials from Aitutaki and government officials from Rarotonga charged with the responsibility to ensure proper processes were followed and that there was appropriate procedures in place to ensure accountability processes were managed and followed appropriately.
To date, that report has not been forthcoming publicly and there is continuing speculation as to a cover up of certain individuals involved in potential misuse of funds donated or directed for the recovery and rebuild process. Efforts to raise this through the media during the past year or two through this paper appear to have fallen on deaf ears and it is now time to seek proper answers to many unanswered questions such as; what has happened to the funds donated to the recovery that were given directly to the Mayor and the Council? What has happened to the funds raised by the people of the Cook Islands and overseas organizations to assist Aitutaki? What has happened to the balance of the funds from the Government funded support via NZAID and has there been evidence of audited accounts to justify expenditure?
It is understood that this was one of the reasons why the Secretary for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning (MOIP) was suspended for failing to produce a final report among other allegations. Of more concern however, is the surfacing of allegations that funds were sent direct to Aitutaki from Cook Islands communities in Wellington, Tokoroa and Australia and there has been no reconciliation to account for what the money was used for and how it was used despite repeated requests from these communities.
Last year, the Mayor of Aitutaki was approached for comment to which he responded, “This happened before my time and any questions relating to Cyclone Pat funds should be directed to the former Mayor Tai Herman” who had also declined to comment.
This has to be a matter of concern given that the money donated for this cause was raised through public funds and provided by taxpayers from those countries. On the eve of a 2013 Donor Roundtable Meeting reported to be scheduled for next month and the cyclone season still in progress, government’s credibility is at risk of being questioned and should the inevitable cyclone hit which is still a real possibility, one would question whether donors and locals would sympathize in responding and supporting a disaster situation because of our inability to manage our own affairs during times of emergency such as what has happened in Aitutaki.
It is important for government to seek answers and if not forthcoming, then those responsible at the time should be held accountable and exposed. In this day and age, any funds donated or provided to assist during times of emergency should be publicly and properly accounted for and anything other than that should not be tolerated. The question is, “Will government follow the lead of New Zealand and do something about it or will it just sit back and allow those responsible to remain unaccountable?”

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- News Briefs

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