Print Edition - 2015-06-07  |  Earthquake Relief

Tracking aid money

- Chahana Sigdel, Kathmandu
Tracking aid money

Jun 6, 2015-

The debate on overhead costs and corruption is being talked about not only among experts but also the citizenry. People are curious to know as to how much money has come into the country and where will it go in the next five, ten years or even more.  

Enter a tech company , Young Innovations, which has come up with an online portal that aims to track the financial flow of aid in the country. The data is open, for everyone to see and draw analysis from. While the challenges are aplenty, the folks at Young Innovations are determined to craft a system to track the money that will go towards rebuilding Nepal. “We say the system is corrupt, that things are not working. In Nepal, we tend to generalise. What is needed is evidence.  With these traceability tools, there will be an opportunity to collect that evidence--of good work, bad work, good use of funds and misuse of funds,” says Bibhusan Bista, CEO of Young Innovations.

So far, the company’s earthquake.opennepal.net portal gives an update on the total amount of money pledged in humanitarian aid, which at the time of writing was 804, 748, 116 US dollars. Below the figure, are the details. The amount is broken down largely into two categories--national and international. The international section is further categorised into multilateral, bilateral, INGOs, corporate and ‘others’, while the national one has been categorised into the government, NGOs, individuals and corporate, along with an ‘other’ sub division.  Each category has a detailed page  that provides more insight on the particulars of the money committed.  

Data is gathered from various sources, including UNOCHA’s Financial Tracking Service, The Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and local media reports. Bista says they want this to be a long-term project that tracks disbursement of the aid as well.  Two fulltime personnel are constantly collecting and verifying data before feeding them into the system.  

The company also works with user feedback. Bista was tagged in a tweet by the US embassy that stated that the embassy’s figures did not match the records provided by the portal, which was taken from UNOCHA’s financial tracking service.  The embassy guided them towards the correct figure.

The company, a part of the IATI, International Aid Transparency Initiative, has developed aid-monitoring tools being used in at least 20 countries. Bista says they started building the system the next day after the Great Quake and the site went live on April 28.

Maintaining aid transparency and accountability are tough tasks in Nepal, says an expert who has been working in the development field and is also closely monitoring aid-related work. The expert, who agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity, said, “We might have data on disbursement and all that but there isn’t a very strong monitoring culture to independently audit and see whether the money has reached where it is supposed to.” Transparency Internati-onal, in an article in the Guardian, has also outlined the problem of corruption that could hinder disbursement of aid. Among possible solutions, the article mentions focusing on the website for the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund as a key piece in the transparency process, “Something that both citizens of Nepal and the aid community can use as a focal point of important information, if it can provide timely and relevant updates,” writes Ashish Thapa, executive director of the Nepal chapter of the organisation.   

The Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, in fact, has been releasing information about the money coming into its account. Acknowledging the relief fund’s attempt at transparency, Bista says strengthening the government is the key to creating a vibrant system that can help track aid. “We don’t want to push the government against the wall and blame them. We want to build a system that will help the government strengthen its mechanism and track financial flow,” he says, adding “We want to assist the government with a solution and support them.” In a major decision last week, the Cabinet has made it mandatory for institutions and individuals willing to participate in reconstruction work to sign a bilateral agreement with the government. In the directive, the government has asked the details of aid commitment and expenditures to be submitted to the Aid Management Platform.

The idea of the earthquake aid portal is an extended and more detailed version of the Aid Management Platform, says Bista. “We want this portal to be as detailed as possible. People’s emotions are attached to this. Those who have donated money will want to know where it has gone and they have the right to do so.”

 

Published: 07-06-2015 08:10

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