Monday, May 16, 2005

A reminder of the tsunami and transnational bureaucracy

Yesterday’s Chicago Sun-Times carried an article by Mark Steyn, in which he compared the extraordinary lengthy procedure by which John Bolton’s appointment as US ambassador to the UN has been held up with the equally appalling but far more dangerous process whereby most of the aid, particularly anything that was being channelled through international organizations, NGOs and the UN has remained in containers.

Here are some facts and figures, quoted by Mark Steyn:

“Five hundred containers, representing one-quarter of all aid sent to Sri Lanka since the tsunami hit on Dec. 26, are still sitting on the dock in Colombo, unclaimed or unprocessed.

At the Indonesian port of Medan, 1,500 containers of aid are still sitting on the dock.

Four months ago, did you chip in to the tsunami relief effort? Did your company? A Scottish subsidiary of the Body Shop donated a 40-foot container of "Lemon Squidgit" and other premium soap, which arrived at Medan in January and has languished there ever since because of "incomplete paperwork,'' according to Indonesian customs officials.”

And what of the much trumpeted aid sent through such virtuous organizations as the Red Cross or UNICEF?

“Diageo sent eight 20-foot containers of drinking water via the Red Cross."We sent it directly to the Red Cross in order to get around the red tape," explained its Sydney office. It arrived in Medan in January and it's still there. The Indonesian Red Cross lost the paperwork.

UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency, sent 14 ambulances to Indonesia, and they took two months to clear customs. Terrible as it was in its awesome fury, the tsunami was in the end transnational business as usual.”

The only surprising part of that is the naivete displayed by the usually hard-headed Diageo. Whatever made them think that the Red Cross was any different from other international and transnational organizations? Did they think it was a charity?

Let us remember, that the only successful part of the post-tsunami effort was the early “coalition of the willing” led by the United States and Australia that actually delivered the aid to the appropriate places, helped to distribute it, laid on clean water and so on and so on. At the time we wrote a good deal about it.

Then came the international aid bureaucracy, established itself quite comfortably and proceeded to muck everything up, wasting and worse all that had been extracted from generous people round the world.

Never mind, though. These people, as Mark Steyn says, make all the right noises and get feted by their chums in the media. Not like that nasty President Bush, who does not bother to be visible to the media unless he thinks it is necessary. Maybe he does launch successful operations, but hey man, does he have compassion? I mean, does he feel their pain?

President Bush is the very antithesis of the Canadian Prime Minister (yes, that’s right, the one getting engulfed in sleaze scandals).

“In January, after the tsunami hit, [Paul Martin, the Canadian PM] flew into Sri Lanka to pledge millions and millions and millions in aid. Not like that heartless George W. Bush back at the ranch in Texas. Why, Prime Minister Martin walked along the ravaged coast of Kalumnai and was, reported Canada's CTV network, "visibly shaken."

President Bush might well have been shaken, but he wasn't visible, and in the international compassion league, that's what counts. So Martin boldly committed Canada to giving $425 million to tsunami relief. "Mr. Paul Martin Has Set A Great Example For The Rest Of The World Leaders!" raved the LankaWeb news service.

You know how much of that $425 million has been spent so far? Fifty thousand dollars -- Canadian. That's about 40 grand in U.S. dollars. The rest isn't tied up in Indonesian bureaucracy, it's back in Ottawa.

But, unlike horrible "unilateralist" America, Canada enjoys a reputation as the perfect global citizen, renowned for its commitment to the U.N. and multilateralism. And on the beaches of Sri Lanka, that and a buck'll get you a strawberry daiquiri. Canada's contribution to tsunami relief is objectively useless and rhetorically fraudulent.”

John Bolton says that the UN and multilateralist system must be reformed or it must die. That, in my opinion, is a generous estimate but he is clearly a generous man.

Who are the people holding him back? Why the multilateralists, the people who think that the problem remains the United States, the people who seriously and without any hint of irony assert that more money thrown into the UN black hole will somehow miraculously solve the problems.

In short, the people who either are those or back those who, among other things, mismanaged spectacularly the post-tsunami aid.

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