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Field Visit

Report
April 2007

Menka Jha,

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Programme Officer,
Asia and Southern Africa

Samandar Hamari Zindagi, Kinara Hamara Adhikaar
(The Sea is our life, the Coast our right!)
A slogan used in post-tsunami community participatory activities by one of the international development
organisations.

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Background

On 26 December 2004, a massive earthquake off the west coast of Northern Sumatra
led to tsunamis that impacted people in more than 12 countries around the Indian
Ocean. An estimated 220,000 people were killed, large populations were displaced,
livelihoods, homes, and infrastructure were destroyed, setting back development gains
substantially1. Pre-existing vulnerabilities such as chronic poverty, environmental
degradation (overfishing and deforestation), population displacement, disease burden,
and long running armed conflict compounded the disaster. This disaster, leading to
unprecedented relief, recovery and reconstruction needs in the Tsunami affected
countries, also resulted in a huge wave of international support. The Tsunami recovery
programme had big and small development agencies focusing broadly on six service
delivery areas: 1) water and sanitation, 2) psycho-social support 3) health 4) shelter 5)
livelihoods and 6) disaster preparedness.

MRDF, owing to the firm support of its donor base and the overwhelming response to its
special appeal, was able to reach out to a few of the worst hit areas in the coastal belt of
India and Andaman and Nicobar Islands2.

January 2005,UNDMT Situation Report – India

1
UN Office of the Special Envoy, ‘The Human Toll’
2
Total population affected: A&N islands – 22,000, Andhra Pradesh – 196,320, Kerala – 130,000,
Tamil Nadu – 890,885 and Pondicherry – 43,432.

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The spontaneous response of MRDF supporters led to the possibility of MRDF
extending support to various organizations within the region. These organizations
included:

MRDF Support to Tsunami hit regions in South Asia
Organisation Target Area Planned activity Budgetary Allocation
CUS, Kolkata South Andaman and Little Andaman Relief, ‘earthquake £373,532
resistant’ houses,
livelihood support
and community-
based disaster
preparedness
RDS, Tamil Nadu Cuddalore and Nagapatttinam, TN " £315,882
CWSDS, Andhra Pradesh Nellore and Pragasham, AP " £264,401
EURO, Colombo Galle, Matara and Tangalle, Sri Lanka " £289,600

The above table excludes the MRDF-supported Tsunami relief and rehabilitation through ACT.

This assessment report, coupled with the Audit reviews exercise for Tsunami partners
and the Emergency Strategy Paper under formulation, is an attempt to carry out a
meaningful review of MRDF’s Tsunami-related work with one of its key partners. We
hope that this exercise spurs generates action points with an eye towards strengthening
the organisation’s humanitarian work in the future.

MRDF supported & CUS led Relief and Rehabilitation in Port Blair

MRDF made a financial outlay of £ 373,532 towards a proposal from CUS aiming to
provide relief and rehabilitation work to the Tsunami affected. The approved amount was

Summary of MRDFgrants given to CUS:
July 1999 (1 of 2) £8,500
Nov 1999 emergency £15,000
July 2000 (2 of 2) £9,000
This is as far back as MRDF’s electronic records show, however, it is understood that smaller grants were given
prior to this.

Gender Justice/Micro-finance and micro-enterprise Programme
April 2001 (1 of 5) £10,400
April 2002 (2 of 5) £9,670
April 2003 (3 of 5) £9,625
April 2004 (4 of 5) £14,950
April 2005 (5 of 5) £16,257 Total = £60,902

Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation: Andaman Islands
March 2005 relief £37,445
July 2005 (1 of 4) £130,698
January 2006 (2 of 4) £139,883
July 2006 (3 of 4) £32,753
January 2007 (4 of 4) £32,753 Total = £373,532

NEW Grant from Isle of Man, via MRDF 4
Uttaran: A rehabilitation centre for special children
August 2006 (1 of 1) £12, 066
to be disbursed in bi-annual grants in order to facilitate the immediate relief activities and
subsequent rehabilitative work in Little and South Andaman.

Funds for Tsunami relief and rehabilitation were channelled through existing partners
due to their regional experience and networking abilities. In an emergency situation,
when there is a sense of immediacy and time is of the essence, it is much easier and
more helpful if existing routes for disbursing funds are utilised instead of attempting to
establish entirely new ones. However, in the case of MRDF, this meant a reliance on
partners with limited or negligible emergency experience. CUS appeared, at this point, a
dependable partner owing to its long-standing relationship not just with MRDF but with
the Methodist Church as well. Thus, despite realising that CUS had never received
funding of more than £ 36,3813, MRDF had few options apart from trusting CUS in its
rehabilitation operations in the Andaman and Nicobar (henceforth A&N) Islands. The fact
that a greater population of A&N islands spoke Bengali further justified the partnership
with the Kolkata-based NGO. Additionally, CUS was aware of the reporting
requirements, accountability standards and funding procedures adopted by MRDF, and
this made it appear an easier organisation to partner with, especially in a situation where
efforts needed to be redoubled and expedited.

It is worth mentioning here that most development agencies experienced a paucity of
partners during this period, and as a result many funding agencies were forced to take
on the role of implementing agencies as well. A critique has been offered of the
appearance of external agencies in the post-tsunami scenario4. However, not much has
been written about the existing alternatives, if any.

Looking at CUS’s background, it appears that the organisation first became an MRDF
partner in 1999. However, it had been supported by the Methodist Church for several
years prior to this. Formed in the early 1970s in response to the refugee influx due to
the war in Bangladesh, CUS was registered as a society in 1975. Since this time, it has
implemented a series of health, sanitation and feeding programmes within Kolkata, and
rural agricultural programmes in Howrah, Hooghly and North 24 Parganas. It has
promoted sustainable development since 2000 through working in partnership with
urban municipal bodies and civil society organisations. Today it is a well-established
independent NGO, which has received funding from a number of international donors.
CUS has continued to maintain its strong roots in the church; there are representatives
from stakeholder churches on the Board and it is linked to the Church of North India
(CNI). The Chair of the Board is the CNI Bishop of Kolkata, Rev PSP Raju, who has
been the Chair during a major part of the duration of MRDF’s partnership with the
organisation.

The organisation is non-denominational and its staff and beneficiaries are of all religions.
CUS Director, Stephen Gonsalvez, joined the organisation in 2001, after a period of
organisational decline, and was given the responsibility of building CUS programmes up
again. Using his experience from the corporate and church related sector, he

3
CUS Application to MRDF, Annual turnover 2002-2003.
4
This was, for instance, discussed at a workshop on ‘Local Organisations and International
Humanitarian Relief System’ conducted on 18 May 2005 at University of Oxford. It was noted here
that external agencies poach staff from local NGOs and that they very rarely have the capacity to treat
the psychosocial aspects of disasters.

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successfully recruited new staff, established new programmes or reinvigorated existing
ones and raised the profile of the organisation5.

As a part of the assessment process of the Tsunami intervention, MRDF carried out an
audit exercise in November 2006 (Annexure 1 - CUS Tsunami Audit Report). The
findings of the Audit report revealed rather startling misalignments and misappropriations
in relation to both fund utilisation and project activities. This audit was followed by an
end–line assessment exercise carried out jointly by the Programme Officer for Asia and
Southern Africa and the MRDF Director. The assessment further substantiated the
findings of the audit report and also revealed the scale of fund misappropriations by an
established organisation such as the CUS.

At the start of this report I must emphasise that it is based solely on the audit and end-
line assessments. A conscious attempt has been made to avoid making assumptions
based on my own impressions. All the statements are based on the facts and figures
collected from office documents, staff interviews, beneficiary interviews and other
stakeholder interviews. I must also mention that this report differs slightly from the
standard format of an MRDF report, as I have avoided recommending clear action points
for each of the observations made. I was forced to do this due to my overall conclusion
that a thorough organisational performance and policy audit was required in this case,
and not merely readjustments/rethinking on key issues. Minor changes and ‘reformatory’
activities will not help CUS regain the faith of the beneficiaries and other stakeholders.

Observations

1. Accounts Audit

i. MRDF, like most international donors, expects its regular partners to undertake
an yearly audit exercise and to share the report with us as an attempt towards
ensuring accountability. CUS did undertake annual audits. However, after an
external audit carried out by the MRDF pointed out serious discrepancies in the
fund-management and recording procedures, it became apparent that the
internal audit required serious scrutiny with respect to its quality and rigour. This
is also necessary as organisations need to realise that auditing is not just a
mundane, soulless and routine requirement of donor bureaucracies, but is also is
a capacity-building mechanism for them.

2. Relief Work

i. MRDF was informed at various points that CUS had undertaken
extensive relief work, and that the WBVHA and several other third parties were a
witness to its efforts. This relief apparently involved bulk distribution of food-
grains and utensils. However, on closer scrutiny of the bills and vouchers
produced to support the ‘extensive work’ of the organisation, it was discovered
that all bills for food-grains were unauthentic: the challans (receipts for goods
delivery) were fake, the muster rolls carried fake beneficiary signatures, and the
packing and dispatching documents were carefully engineered. Bills were
produced from shops supposedly operating in the Bura Bazar and Netaji Subhas
5
Visit report, May 2006, Isabelle Carboni.

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Rd areas of Kolkata city. Bills showing bulk purchase of rice from the Burdwan
district of West Bengal were also attached. However, on physical verification (a
rather unexpected event for CUS, as it had banked heavily on MRDF’s ignorance
of regional and local topography) it was found that none of these shops existed.
The bills had been printed randomly at various offset printing shops. These fake
bills together notched up a substantial figure of more than 1.8 million Indian
Rupees. What was further disturbing was that some of the challans and vouchers
had signatures of either people who the Finance Officer/ Accountant (hereafter
FO) claimed never to have heard of, or of people like Yusuf who were no more
attached to the organisation, or of those like Nizam who barely managed to sign.

ii. A sum of more than Rs 2.36 million (29,310 GBP) was withdrawn on 6
April 2005 for the purchase of relief supplies but no purchases were made till
the 7th May. While the Director stated that the money was deposited in the CUS
safe with the keys in the possession of the FO, the FO noted that this money was
with the Secretary. No amount of probing led to a common explanation to this
situation. It would perhaps be useful for the management to investigate further
into the status of this rather significant sum of money during the period between
April and May 2005. The interest, had this money been kept in the bank, should
have been spent on the project and accounted for, or returned to the MRDF.

iii. The existing relief distribution report submitted to the Government
showed a total expenditure of Rs 1.92 million (23,846 GBP). Despite several
requests for providing this report to MRDF, CUS has still failed to do so.

3. Cost-escalation

i. Half-way through the project CUS reported a doubling of construction costs.
This meant that the number of houses initially planned for construction no
longer possible. The cost of building each one of the houses finally reached a
figure of Rs 230,000 or 2856 GBP (Rs 80,000 more than the proposed cost).
While anyone with the slightest experience of emergency situations does
realise that post-disaster scenarios witness a cost-escalation on all fronts, a
doubling of figures was something which no agency in a similar situation
experienced6.

ii. In this context I must also point out that no contextualisation of the construction
activity was done. Some research on post-emergency shelter provisions at the
time of the framing of proposal would have definitely helped in avoiding under-
budgeting. Additionally, the question of a total doubling of figures is still not too
well understood – either by the MRDF or by the CUS staff themselves7.

iii. Further, after having had a look at the Phase I and Phase II houses, I am
forced to admit that by no stretch of my imagination (attuned to property prices
within the subcontinent) would I price the second phase houses of 200 sq feet

6
ActionAid, Plan, Asha Bhavan Centre, Save the Children – UK & Rural Development Society
records.
7
Interviews with CUS Tsunami staff.

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each at a price of Rs 230,000 (2,856 GBP). A comparison with other agencies’
costs also reveal the same.

iv. This doubt was further strengthened when I was told by one of the contractors
employed in the second phase that he was paid Rs 160,000 (1,987 GBP) for a
fully completed house.
v. A mix of construction procedures was used, including contracting and self-
construction (employing hired labour). At the time of the audit it was reported
that 21 houses had been handed over to contractors. One of these 21 houses,
it was noted, was self– constructed but the construction material was provided
by the contractor. I was also informed that the second phase houses were all
self-constructed. However, stakeholder interviews revealed that a contractor
had been recruited for the construction of 2 houses in the village of Chouldari
at a rate of Rs 160,000 (1,987 GBP) per house. If this were true for all houses
in phase II (and this cannot be proven in the absence of the signed contract),
MRDF has been overcharged to the tune of more than Rs 70,000 (870 GBP)
for each of the 31 houses of the phase 2, leading to a substantial and totally
unexplained financial loss.

MRDF anticipates that at the very least, the CUS Board will fully investigate the
issues raised in 3.iv and 3.v, and provide an indication of what action it plans to
take.

4. Selection of Beneficiaries

i. It was noted that the beneficiaries were selected on the basis of
recommendations made by the Gram Pradhan (village leader). The external
audit report however states that ‘neither recommendation from the Gram
Pradhan nor the survey report could be produced for verification’.

ii. On my visit I was handed the survey reports and the Pradhan’s
recommendations for phase I of construction. This could imply that the paper-
work was done after the selection of beneficiaries and the construction of
houses. This would further mean that the paper-work was done purely for the
sake of donor enquiries and not to establish a legal basis for the beneficiary’s
entitlement to support.

iii. The second phase of construction was not supported by any paper-work. The
resident CUS co-ordinator had herself completed and taken printouts of
recommendation sheets, hand-over documents and survey sheets. However,
none of the documents had signatures of the beneficiaries or the village
leaders. This, coupled with the fact that both the auditor and I noticed that the
beneficiaries had a life-style that did not justify MRDF- funded support, raises
serious questions on the methodology adopted for selection of beneficiaries.

iv. In this context, my interviews with Gram Pradhans revealed that while they
did recommend beneficiaries in situations where the agency came to consult
them, they were powerless to question the organisation’s choice of
beneficiaries. One of the Pradhans asked us – “What recommendation are
you talking about? We would sign recommendation sheets for anybody in the
village. We need to stay in power. They vote for us.” This clearly brings out

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the problem with depending on one elected leader for deciding on the
beneficiary list. Additionally, the issue of elected leaders demanding that their
own people (relatives and friends) be included in the list was also raised by
CUS field staff and further substantiated after assessing the SHG
beneficiaries. In this context I would like to cite, as an example worth
emulating, RDS’s decision to form a Village Development Committee for
consultations, apart from discussions with the panchayat representative. This
village development committee8 was not just responsible for the selection of
beneficiaries but also for evaluation and monitoring of the project.

v. Additionally, one does not need to point out to an organisation as well-
established as CUS the absolute need for development agencies to be
accountable to the target group they work with. However, I was somewhat
shocked when a group of young village members approached me during my
visit and requested information on the ‘seven non-identifed houses’ built in
the village.

vi. On my visit I was informed that the status of the 31 houses (though I knew it
as 30) of the Second Phase was as follows:

Village Number Status

Chouldari 2 Complete
Sippighat 4 Complete
2 Incomplete
1 Untouched
Namunaghar 8 Complete
1 Incomplete
Wandoor 7 Complete
6 Untouched

The reality was that six supposedly ‘untouched’ houses in Wandoor had in
fact been completed. They also appeared to be more brightly coloured than
any other house in the nearby villages. I discovered that these six ‘untouched’
houses, along with another one in Sippighat, had been registered in the name
of staff members of the organisation. These houses would have been
subsequently transferred into ownership of CUS. In fact, the Finance officer in
charge of recording project expenditure in a transparent manner ensured that
staff members signed the deed papers without any qualms.9 Such activities
reveal that while CUS failed to realize its own responsibilities, it also did not
comprehend the fact that it was not merely an agency acting in isolation, but
a representative of global developmental efforts and goodwill in the region.
Even a small minority of NGOs failing to maintain a minimum standard of
transparency, or worse, creating doubts about the purpose of the

8
RDS beneficiary interview notes: ‘During the tsunami, we were involved in not just planning but also
formal and informal monitoring. We decided the beneficiaries, questioned timelines and also quality of
work.’
9
Interviews with community, land-owner who sold the land and few other confidential sources.

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organisation’s presence in the community, can erode public trust in NGOs
and in the INGO community. MRDF, taking seriously its status as the longest-
standing partner of CUS and worried about the misuse of its funds, would like
to pose the following questions:

a) Why was it not mentioned to MRDF at any stage (not even at the time
of the visit) that funds were being used to acquire organisational (or,
worse, personal) property?
b) Why did the staff act claim ignorance about who owned this property
and who bought it? Even the FO, who seemed to have a say in all
other matters, only said that “‘Sir’ bought it” on being pressed.
c) Why was there no deed paper to prove that the property belonged to
CUS? Why was the community, particularly the village leader of
Wandoor, kept in the dark about the purchase of this property?
d) Finally, and perhaps the most serious question is, why was the
community once again being used as an excuse when an explanation
was demanded during the visit? In his written explanation Mr SInha
stated that the Panchayat leader planned to donate these houses to
beneficiaries (Annexure 2). This explanation, when cross-checked
through meeting the village leader and several other village youth
along with the CUS staff, was found to be completely false. While
CUS has been accusing MRDF of not having invested enough faith in
them, I wonder whether an entire village might be lying.

vii. The issue of these 7 houses raises serious questions about CUS’s
transparency both within the organisation itself and with its other stakeholders
(including its donors and the community). The board needs to request
relevant papers, including those pertaining to the history of ownership
of these houses and the land, and also regarding any change in
ownership that might have occurred in the last two to three months. An
attempt should also be made to recover details of CUS’s financial
transactions so that the purchase is not justified through producing records
showing the use of general funds for the purpose. MRDF is also not able to
recognise these houses as being built as a part of its project due to the
obvious issue of misidentified beneficiaries.

viii. None of the beneficiaries were aware of the cost of construction of the house
received. This was not just a symptom of bad accountability practices but
could also act as an obstacle in the community’s appreciation, acceptance
and ownership of the asset. It was disappointing to discover such practices in
the operations of one of our partners, especially at a time and in a situation
where NGOs have increasingly recognized the need to be accountable to the
populations they were working with.

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Accountability implies that affected population must be involved in the planning,
implementing and evaluating of a humanitarian response. In specific terms,
accountability can be achieved through four complementary imperatives: transparency,
participation, evaluation and complaints and response mechanisms. In a transparent
recovery process, affected populations should have had easy access to information,
which enables them to participate in and challenge programs that affect their lives. One
proven, effective way to provide information is through publicly accessible bulletin
boards with detailed project plans, budgets, or beneficiary lists. Access to information in
turn paves the way for participation. While transparency and participation can enable
affected populations to drive and design recovery from the outset, evaluation and
complaints mechanisms allow them to fine tune recovery programs.

5. NGO Professionalism

i. This section covers my observations regarding 1) Institutional capacity to deliver
services 2) Governance, management structures, systems and policies to ensure
transparency and effectiveness 3) Skills and competencies of the staff.

ii. CUS has a clearly articulated mission statement in place which highlights its
commitment towards issues of human rights and humanitarian law,
egalitarianism and non-discrimination. It also stresses the importance of ensuring
a governance structure ‘independent’ of management, and that of maintaining
transparency and accountability in its practices. While CUS’s mission document
is worthy of praise for emphasising such issues, what needs to be ensured is a
regular compliance review, verification and certification.

iii. In my talks with the senior staff, the blame for most of the accountability errors
and fund mismanagement was transferred to the Program Manager at the time,
Mr Yusuf Kabir, and the Development Officer, Mrs Sreemati Sen. However,
several interviews with other staff members revealed that neither the Project nor
the Development Officer were responsible for any budgetary decisions. Further,
even if the culpability of these two officers were to be accepted, the question that
remains unanswered is: why was there no existing and functional reporting line
which could have ensured adherence to project guidelines and organisational
systems? Additionally, having worked in NGO offices within India, I feel that the
scale of fund misappropriation (Rs 1.8 million or 22,355 GBP for fake relief bills
alone) was too high for any single staff member to carry out without the
information reaching higher levels of the organisation. Finally, the organisation is
responsible for what has and is being done by its staff members. It cannot blame
individuals within the organisation for failure to meet project goals.

iv. All project staff members (not just on the Tsunami project but also on the Uttaran
project currently funded by Isle of Man) were kept ignorant about the budgetary
allocations. CUS, with its years of experience in the development sector, does
not need to be reminded about the danger of having the programme detached
from the budget. The Programme staff need to be equipped with the power to
take budgetary decisions and should be able to compare project developments

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with the budgetary status, something which does not appear to have been done
on these projects.

v. Ms Isabelle Carboni, the Programme Officer for Asia at the time, noted after her
field visit to CUS that the Development Officer and the Program Manager were
extremely well-versed with human rights concepts and CUS-executed project
strategies. Further, at the time, a number of knowledgeable staff members were
on CUS’s payroll. This included the Networking and Liaison Organiser Mr.
Parimal Nandi and the Rural Co-ordinator Mr. Sitaram Mukherjee. However,
within a short timespan the entire team was changed. The Program Manager and
the Development Officer were asked to leave on grounds of poor staff
management, financial mis-handling and extra-marital liaisons within the office.
Mr Sitaram and Mr Parimal were asked to leave on the grounds that the funding
for the projects they were working on had ceased. However, after having met the
new Tsunami team at Port Blair, my question is: what motivated CUS to dismiss
Sitaram and Parimal, who had carried out a considerable amount of relief and
rehabilitation for CUS, and settle for relatively inexperienced staff members?
Additionally, was the board adequately informed about the reasons for the
selection of new members and the dismissal of existing staff members?

vi. In the audit exercise it was discovered that several expenses related to CUS’s
North Andaman work were charged to the MRDF project, even though MRDF’s
fund was directed only towards South and Little Andaman. CUS explained the
expenditure in North Andaman by reporting that Ms Sreemati Sen, the
Development officer, had been making trips to North Andaman for personal
gains. It was alleged that she had made these trips in order to collect data for her
PhD from the Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan. However, further probing
with other stakeholders revealed that Ms Sen is not enrolled for a PhD
programme within the university either during the present or the next academic
year. Additionally, the field visit to Port Blair revealed that it was not just Ms Sen
who visited North Andaman to set-up the project funded by Save the Children,
but that other field staff members were also doing the same. In fact, one of the
staff members pivotal to the project due to his significant local knowledge was
shifted from the MRDF-funded Tsunami project to the Save the Children project
without any consultations with the MRDF office. While diversification of donor
base is advocated strongly by MRDF, new projects should not be built at the cost
of existing ones.

vii. At this point I would also like to raise the issue of the quality of personnel who
were left handling the project at its crucial final stages, particularly when large
areas of dissatisfaction had already been identified by MRDF. The Finance
Officer, for instance, made a total of five visits between February 2007 and
March 2007. However, it is quite apparent that Mr Sinha lacks the programmatic
experience and understanding to be able to guide a humanitarian project of this
nature. If this was done to build the capacities of Mr Sinha, I feel that an
emergency situation of this scale and immediacy was not the best learning
grounds for someone left without any supervision. As they say: ‘you cannot be
running the marathon and tying the shoe laces at the same time’. Quite evidently,
the Tsunami was a project demanding much more attention and programmatic
expertise than many other projects of a similar kind. While the inability to provide
competitive salaries might be a hindrance to ensuring a long-term commitment

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from the staff in a difficult field setting such as Port Blair, what was not
understood was CUS’s dependence on a finance person in such a situation.
Equally incomprehensible was its eagerness to recruit new staff members when
trained staff within CUS were willing and, in fact, desperate to move to other
projects. While on the subject of the quality and competence of staff members, I
would also like to mention my observations about the resident co-ordinator. While
it must be understood that MRDF, as a matter of policy, refrains from making any
personal comments about the staff members of its partner organisations, I am
forced to state that the resident co-ordinator lacks the sensitivity for working with
the community. To cite an instance in support of my observation, when the young
people’s group approached me in the village of Wandoor to inquire about the
seven houses mentioned above, the co-ordinator showed her anger in too
obvious a fashion for me to ignore it. Other staff members present at the site
might be able to corroborate this observation. Additionally, simple queries like
‘how would you ensure gender-sensitive emergency shelter provision’ seemed
completely new to her. While her willingness to work in difficult field-settings is
commendable, CUS had better trained in-house staff who could have handled
the work more professionally than a new and relatively inexperienced officer.

viii. Additionally, it was extremely frustrating to find that in spite of my visit being
planned with adequate notice, none of the staff members could provide any
information to supplement what I discovered on my own. There was no clear
organisation in the documentation at the Port Blair office. Files were extremely
disorganised and represented a mere collection of bits and pieces from various
documents put together into various folders without any labelling. This made the
assessment very difficult and it appeared to me, during my bad moments, a
conscious strategy to make my task impossible. I would urge CUS to take up a
thorough workshop on office administration for all its staff members.

ix. It is also worth pointing out that the co-ordinator was absolutely ignorant about
the budget for the project. Also, on the day I reached Port Blair, I was told that
she and her team had not seen the audit report: it had not been sent to them
from the head office. However, the story changed to ‘we got the audit report two
days back’ on the very next day, after the arrival of Mr Sinha. Also, the resident
co-ordinator had been directed by CUS to inform me that she joined the
organisation in November 2006, while in reality she had not started work till
February 2007. Instead of being trained to be more accountable and responsible,
the project staff were thus being taught lessons in non-transparency by their
managers. The entire exercise was not merely disappointing for me: I also felt
embarrassed and ashamed at having to act more as an investigator rather than
as someone carrying out qualitative assessment of programme work.

x. MRDF requested a meeting with the board members during the visit in April and
had provided a three weeks’ notice for the same. However, to our surprise, we
received a letter from the Director on the morning of the proposed day of the
meeting informing us that the meeting had been cancelled. This raised several
questions: was the board aware at all that MRDF had called an emergency board
meeting? Who cancelled the meeting? How justified was CUS in cancelling a
scheduled board meeting requested by donors with offices in London and hence
unable to attend a rescheduled meeting in the future? The letter mentioned the
Secretary’s illness as the reason for the cancellation. However, would it have

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been impossible for the meeting to be conducted in his absence? We later came
to know through certain sources that members of the board were not even aware
of this meeting supposed to have been planned three weeks in advance. We also
received the information that the audit report of the largest project CUS had ever
handled had not been shared with the board up to that point.

xi. This raises serious concerns about the role the board plays in protecting,
promoting and advocating for transparent organisational systems and structures.
Is the board adequately informed about the developments on various projects
and within the organisation, thus enabling it to exercise its powers? There is also
an urgent need for the board to initiate the process of regular reviews to keep a
check on financial control systems, human resource policies, assessment and
evaluation, and beneficiary engagement at all stages of program design. These
changes are essential to maintain transparency and accountability within the
organisation.

6. Community Participation

i. It has been mentioned in some reports that in the post-Tsunami scenario there
were numerous cases of individuals in receipt of multiple boats, houses and
grants from government and non-government agencies. With several existing
suppliers of similar goods and services, individuals and whole communities were
able to ‘shop-around’10. This was the result of duplication of efforts. However,
duplication in one area meant inequity and deprivation in another where agencies
where few and where less powerful individuals and groups were unable to
enforce legitimate claims.

ii. Such powerlessness of the beneficiaries was also noticed in the case of CUS’s
operations in the region. A few instances came to my notice which proved that
CUS did not keep cultural preferences, prejudices and demands of the
beneficiaries at the centre of its projects. Thus, several beneficiaries complained
of CUS having just not heeded their demands for a toilet separate from the
house. This was a simple request but carried a deep cultural meaning for the
community. And it would definitely not have had any cost implication.

iii. It is important that agencies, in their attempt to deliver services under pressure,
do not sideline some equally important aspects of humanitarian assistance, such
as accountability towards affected populations, the need to prioritize co-
ordination, strengthening local capacity and a human-rights based approach to
recovery. However, more than 24 beneficiary interviews revealed that PSI’s
proposed plan for housing on behalf of CUS was not shared with the community
before implementation.

10
NGO Impact Initiative, Care, UNDP and American Red Cross. August 2006.

14
Action Aid worked as an implementing agency in the Tsunami relief and
rehabilitation scenario. It adopted Participatory Vulnerability Analysis (PVA) to
ensure a participatory approach, to understand local housing practices of the
communities, and to build a community perspective on permanent housing.
Additionally, Action Aid had joint bank accounts with community members. Approved
funds were handed over to groups in the presence of the village committee and
ActionAid personnel. Community members were also involved in documentation.
For instance, they maintained a Stock register on a daily basis to record the details
of construction materials received and utilised. Other records maintained by them
included the Petty Cash Book (to record the details of daily cash transaction during
the construction period), the Visitor’s book (for technical inputs, monitoring, and for
notes on the progress of the work), and the Beneficiaries’ file (to store photo
copies/originals of all document including housing formats, land records, court
affidavits, resolutions, bills/vouchers of purchases/payments and quotations, and the
house designs).11

iv. Features such as electric wiring, roof-water piping and toilets were a part of the
proposed plan. I was informed during my visit that these were supposed to have
been installed through community contribution. However, having interviewed
more than 50% of the beneficiaries from different villages, I feel confident in
making the assertion that the community was never informed of the contribution
expected of them. It seems a little unfair therefore to blame them for having
shown reluctance to contribute. Additional expenses amounting to Rs 30,000 per
house to install these features also seems unwarranted and unnecessary when
seen in the light of this information.

v. There were more than a few cases where roof water piping was completed but
without the provision of tanks, space was created for windows but no frames
installed, and toilets had been built but without a concrete base (dhalai). A few of
the houses had a plinth while community members occupying some other
houses complained that they needed the same. While these are issues that
could have been sorted out after the visit, what seemed more serious and
troubling was that: 1) the beneficiaries were not aware about house
specifications; 2) the community was not informed of any need for participation at
any stage of the project, and 3) cultural realities of the community were sidelined
during project execution. Agencies involved in emergency shelter provisions
need to realize that they cannot operate like contractors with no social sensitivity.

The aim of humanitarian relief and rehabilitation work is to empower affected
populations and to recognize their central and active role in recovery operations.
This will require a shift on many levels: NGOs need to engage with a range of local
institutions, including not only the village leaders and the local government but also
the affected populations. It is also important to keep pre-existing patterns of
vulnerability and marginalization in mind, as well as the ways in which the disaster
may have exacerbated those patterns.

11
Building Our Own Houses, Action Aid India ( Participatory tools used in this exercise were Social
and Resource Mapping, Time Line and Historical Mapping, Livelihood analysis, Mobility Mapping,
Hazard and risk mapping, Mapping of vulnerable families.)

15
vi. The selection of PSI (Dehradun) for proposing the permanent shelter plan
adopted by CUS might have been influenced by the fact that the Program
Manager of CUS at that point had contacts within the organisation. I was
surprised to see that a plan without the provision of toilet facilities had been
proposed by PSI, supposedly shared with the community and been finally
approved. CUS, however, stated in one of its mails that “the proposed plan
was widely appreciated and also adopted by other organisations like
ActionAid”. I was able to acquire detailed plans, costing and strategy of the
ActionAid shelter provision process, and it is definitely not the one adapted or
adopted from the PSI plan.

7. Gender Dimension

i. Many of the 54 houses appeared to have been allotted to women. However,
interviews suggested that the gender aspect was better taken care of in the
documents than in reality, as many of these women interviewed were not
even aware that the house was registered in their name (even in situations
where they already had the hand-over sheets from CUS). This would imply
that these women had not been adequately informed/ consulted during the
exercise. Additionally, no women were involved in the Mason’s training
programme or in the construction process12. This resulted in reinforcing the
male-dominated asset ownership pattern in the communities and could be a
missed opportunity in redressing gender imbalance.

ii. As part of the livelihood support programme, CUS reached out to some
SHGs in Hathitapu and Havelock. During my visit I realised that the SHGs in
Hathitapu were adequately funded (and possibly over-funded) by the
government-run SHG support initiative. The group already had well-
established income generation programmes in place which included
strategies such as rearing Japanese squeal (a bird species), preparation and
marketing of pickles made out of squeal eggs, poultry rearing, running of
government-supported crèche etc. I visited the house of the group leader
within the community and they seemed to have a much better life-style
compared to that of the beneficiaries MRDF intends to reach out to. We were
offered soft drinks within minutes of our arrival. Further, apart from the IGP,
the husband of one of the members I met (Kavita) was a heavy vehicle driver,
while another member called Manjeet had two children working on private
jobs within the city. A gas plant employing animal refuse (gobar gas plant)
had been installed for this group in Manjeet’s house. These are but a few of
the indices, visible within minutes of our arrival, that pointed towards a
relatively better life style.

iii. I also visited the Jagriti SHG, in Havelock, a 3-hour journey from Port Blair.
The group of intended beneficiaries here seemed, if anything, even more
well-off. The husband of the group leader (who, significantly, was Kavita’s
sister), for instance, was a teacher at Government school and received a

12
Core Values of ActionAid’s Livelihood Programme – Participatory planning, reviews and reflection,
Transparency and accountability to the community, Active involvement of women in the work,
Elderly as dignified work –force, Mainstreaming of persons with disabilities into the programme.

16
good salary. The group also received regular funding from the Government.
CUS’s assistance to the group was offered through setting up a Bengali
restauraunt. This eating joint has a refrigerator, a television, and a transistor
(out of its own income) and counts a great number of Indians and foreigners
amongst its visitors. While discussing CUS’s intervention in Havelock, it is
important to keep in mind that this region had been completely unaffected by
the Tsunami. There appeared, therefore, no valid reason for CUS to have
travelled all the way from Port Blair to reach out to a small community group
in Havelock. It also needs to be mentioned here that Havelock is not just far
from Portblair but also rather inaccessible, as the jetties from the mainland
are very infrequent and charge Rs 400 for a return ticket. Havelock is one of
the most popular tourist destinations in Port Blair and boasts a pristine beach.
However, I am sure the management would agree that this in itself does not
justify the SHG support in this region.

iv. Another matter of importance was the construction of a Community Hall in the
Hathitapu Village. I visited this Hall and was quite impressed with the
construction work. However, this still did not answer the question of why this
initiative was undertaken at a time when the house-building project was
already facing under-budgeting. What also makes one slightly sceptical is the
fact that this hall again is totally managed (if not owned) by the two SHG
members Kavita and Manjeet. Did an organisation such as CUS agree to
construct a big community hall just because two of the group members had
been volunteers with the organisation at some point? Why was the hall
constructed without any approval or even discussion with MRDF? The need
for the community hall was absolutely unclear to me and probably to most
CUS staff as well.

v. Additionally, it was also noted that the Community Hall was duly inaugurated
and dedicated to Mahila Mandal (led by Kavita and Manjeet) by the Rt. Rev.
P.S.P Raju on 11 January 2006. This indicates that the management was
informed and in agreement about the construction of the Community Hall for
a Self-Help group in Hathitapu. Instead of reaching out to women who were
already well networked and well-funded for livelihood support, CUS should
have identified the ones who had been worst affected through studying
livelihood patterns using participatory tools. Vague references to gender and
‘vulnerable groups’ are not convincing unless there has been a conscious
attempt to study the vulnerability pattern and direct support has been offered
to the ones out of the immediate active social network.

vi. CUS had also planned to set up an Aata Chakki (Flour mill) for the same
group led by Kavita in Hathi Tapu. Even though community members have
not benefited from the Chakki, MRDF has still been charged for the same and
bills have been produced to support this expenditure.

Conclusion

MRDF’s accountability policies force it to try and retrieve funds which have been clearly
unutilised or misused. MRDF could have attempted to retrieve a greater sum if it had
based its demand on its impressions noted in the field report. However, it has limited
itself to those amounts for which there is written evidence. During the end-line

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assessment visit MRDF adequately discussed the matter of fund retrieval with CUS and
a verbal commitment from the CUS Secretary was sought. A written commitment listing
various funds to be returned was also provided by the accountant during the assessment
trip. However the list excludes the 7 ‘untouched’ houses in Wandoor and Sippighat. A
letter was subsequently despatched by MRDF on 16 May 2007 requesting fund
retrievals as directed by the MRDF management. A concise break-down of the funds
demanded is produced below:

Reimbursement of Expenditure Amount in INR Amount in GBP
1 Tsunami Relief Materials 1,815,025 22,542
2 Project Coordinator's Honorarium (Nov 06-Jan 07) 30,000 373
3 Purchase of Atta Chakki 42,000 522
4 Cost of 7 houses @Rs 234,000 1,638,000 20,344
Total 3,525,025.00 132,386

MRDF expects CUS to take responsibility for the missing funds and to provide a
confirmation of the return of funds immediately.

Lessons from the Field

There is always a danger of stepping in with too little understanding and limited
resources in emergency situations. MRDF, in future, needs to be more cautious about
building partnerships towards facilitating sustainable recovery in disaster-struck areas. It
needs to be careful about partnering organisations with limited or no emergency
experience. There is also a need to promote and emphasize the highest standards of
quality management and professionalism. I have attempted to list below a few
commitments and possible action points for executing parties:

i. Rigorous audits starting in the first year of execution.

ii. Setting up of transparent tender requirements with the scope for community
involvement to be stressed, documented and emphasised at the initiation.13

iii. Strategy for beneficiary selection needs to be adequately spelt out.
Organisations should try to avoid relying solely on the opinion of village
leaders. Attempts should be made to understand the vulnerability pattern
before and after the disaster.

iv. The process of designing houses has to actively involve the community.
Organisations should take into consideration traditional practices, cultural
preferences14, needs of women, possibility of natural hazards, and the needs
of children. Technical details should also be discussed with village
13
ActionAid Housing Reconstruction Process: Quotation and estimation of material for construction:
The owner of the house with a community member collected three quotations of the materials to be
used . Subsequently, they discussed together for the finalisation of the vendor from where the materials
will be purchased. Accordingly, an estimate was also arrived at through this process. This estimate was
discussed with the engineer for approval on material quality.
14
‘NGOs forget that it’s so much to do with people and not tent’ – Field Interview, Sri Lanka.

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development committees and the plan should be finalised and approved by
the community.

v. Contractors should be avoided as far as possible. They are an expensive
proposition due to the profit margins they try to maintain. Additionally, they
can jeopardise the quality of construction in order to maximise profits.15

vi. Toilets should have adequate provisions for sewage collection, disposal and
treatment. This is necessary to ensure basic sanitation standards.

vii. Areas of community contribution should be clearly spelt out and should, in
fact, be decided upon by the community itself. Community members should
be involved in constructing their own house, as this would imbue them with a
greater sense of ownership. However, in an emergency situation, the
possibility of community contribution should be realistically assessed before
inviting contributions.

viii. Local skills need to be employed during the construction of shelters as this is
more affordable and leaves scope for repairs and extensions in the future.

ix. Livelihood support should be directed to members identified through the
Participatory Vulnerability Analysis.

x. Joint ownership of houses should be ensured, except in case of women-
headed families. This generates a sense of joint responsibility. Additionally, it
also changes the asset-ownership pattern within communities.

xi. Community members should have active involvement in disbursement of
payments and maintenance of documents. Accounts owned and operated by
the headquarters should be absolutely avoided. All documents regarding
purchase of construction material, stock register, petty cash handling,
individual beneficiary files, land deed papers, contracting payments, and
livelihood support should be maintained in the field office and a copy of the
documents should also be in possession of the relevant groups in the
community.

xii. All relief distribution lists need to contain details regarding quantities, date of
distribution, recipient names and names of three third party witnesses. These
lists should be submitted to the local government office and should also be in
possession of the Village leader and the village development committee.

xiii. Intensive networking and co-ordination with the government and other non-
government agencies needs to be taken up. In the Tsunami’s context, many
studies have identified lack of co-ordination as a major – if not the most
critical – factor that contributed to problems, including critical gaps in service
delivery and duplication of effort.

15
EURO Low-Income Housing lessons: Also when contractors do the work and the house is given free
the beneficiary will not value it. When the beneficiary gets involved in the construction, he/she will
acquire a sense of ownership and will not permit compromise with the quality of the work.

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xiv. Close monitoring and frequent visits by experienced and relevant staff
members during disaster interventions of this scale is required. Donor
organisations should also try to keep track of appointments and
retrenchments within partner organisations.

xv. There should be clarity within the budgets regarding the various expenses
and the expenses should be matched against the proposed budget at every
stage of implementation.

xvi. Research on pre-emergency and post-emergency costs of construction
material and livelihood support items needs to be conducted. In situations
where there is inadequate time, a 20% addition to pre-emergency costs
should be factored in to leave room for cost over-runs.

xvii. Adequate research about best practices, emergency strategies of other
humanitarian agencies and lessons learnt from previous emergencies should
be done to prepare better for the project execution.

xviii. Investing in capacity building of local people16, coupled with disaster
preparedness and risk-reduction activities are a critical component of making
emergency interventions sustainable.

I would also want to state at this point that the Tsunami recovery experience has
demonstrated the importance of understanding that 1) recovery from a disaster is a
matter of years, not weeks or months 2) disaster preparedness activities have a major
role to play 3) funding flexibility is needed so that money can be utilised for strategic
preparatory activities like needs assessment and vulnerability analysis. However, any
modifications in funding patterns must also be agreed by the donor and should be
adequately monitored. It is also crucial, now that the Tsunami has been displaced from
the front pages, to keep the interest alive and work towards empowering communities
and the humanitarian sector to prepare better for any future disasters.

Annexure:
1. CUS Tsunami Audit Report.
2. MRDF’s response to the Audit Report.
3. CUS’s response to the Audit Report.
4. CUS’s written commitment towards partial fund return.
5. MRDF’s fund retrieval letter.
6. MRDF’s reminder letter for fund return.

16
Curbing Corruption in Tsunami Relief Operations, ADB/OECD, April 05 : Dependence Vs Capacity:
The issue of building capacity rather than dependency is particularly acute in post-disaster situations.
Many projects bring important resources (funding and expertise) necessary for the emergency relief,
however once the emergency need has been met, the funding or expertise is gone.

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