Failure of Tsunami Reconstruction

18 months after the tsunami of 2004 in Southeast Asia triggered the biggest humanitarian response in history, recriminations are rife about failed reconstruction efforts. Canadians and the Canadian government gave generously to aid victims of the disaster. A new report indicates that much of that aid may have been wasted.Aid agencies are being accused of "planning poorly, raising unrealistic expectations and simply being incompetent".

According to the Associated Press, brand-new homes infested with termites are being torn down in Indonesia while families in India were put into shelters deemed of "poor quality" and "uninhabitable" because of the heat. Thousands of boats donated to fishermen in Indonesia and Sri Lanka sit idle because they are unseaworthy or too small. Only 23 percent of the $10.4 billion in disaster aid to the worst hit countries, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, has been spent, according to the United Nations, because so much of it is earmarked for long-term construction projects.

As the NGOs shifted to reconstruction, excessive amounts of money meant that spending decisions were often driven by "politics and funds, not assessment and needs," according to the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition or TEC, an independent body that includes over 40 humanitarian agencies and donors.

In a July report, TEC called the aid effort "a missed opportunity." It said there were too many inexperienced NGOs working in disaster zones, while seasoned agencies jumped into areas they knew nothing about -- Medecins Sans Frontieres Belgium built boats while Save the Children constructed houses.

The report also accused NGOs of leaving many survivors ignorant about their plans or failing to deliver promised aid. "A combination of arrogance and ignorance characterized how much of the aid community misled people," it said.


More on the Arar affair

Haroon Siddiqui has an excellent article in today's Star in which he sets out clearly what needs to be done in response to the O'Connor report. He suggests:

O'Connor, still on the job, should appeal Ottawa's decision to censor parts of his report. Given the government's low credibility and its conflict of interest, let the courts decide what should or should not be held back in the name of national security.

RCMP Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli should, or be made to, resign, as suggested even by Shirley Heafey, former RCMP complaints commissioner.

Ottawa ought to discipline those in the RCMP and at the Canadian embassy in Damascus who not only kept the government in the dark about the Arar case but also actively misled it and undermined its diplomatic efforts to free him. Such tactics belong in a banana republic, not a mature democracy.

Discipline those officials who leaked false information to malign Arar as one way to cover up their own misdeeds. (The Ottawa Citizen and CTV, which carried stories from that smear campaign, may want to conduct internal investigations and share the results with the public, the way The New York Times did for having relied in 2003 on official leaks about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).

Get the RCMP out of the business of investigating national security. That's the job of the spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, created in 1985 after RCMP abuses in Quebec. Let CSIS gather and analyze intelligence and let the Mounties act on it through criminal investigations. Such specialization ensures professionalism, on the one hand, and better protection for law-abiding citizens, on the other.

Establish rules on how a citizen is put on a watch list.

Develop a protocol on how to better protect Canadians abroad. In Arar's case, our embassy in Damascus acted more as an apologist for the RCMP and CSIS, in cahoots with Syrian intelligence, than as a protector of a Canadian citizen in dire need of help.

Apologize to Arar, compensate him, give him a government job or help him find one, as O'Connor suggests. Honour his indefatigable wife, Monia Mazigh, for not only helping set him free but also forcing us all to look in the mirror.

I agree totally with his suggestions. In particular , as I mentioned last night, media like the Ottawa Citizen and Ms O'Neill, who allowed themselves to be used as tools for those in the RCMP who wished to smear Arar, should apologize for their role in this affair and take steps to ensure this does not happen again.


Zaccardelli should resign or be fired

In light of Justice O'Connor's report, which concluded that the RCMP passed along erroneous and damaging intelligence to the U.S. about Maher Arar,RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli should resign or be fired. Justice O'Connor found that it is very likely that the RCMP's erroneous intelligence about Mr. Arar led to his apprehension by the U.S. and deportation to Syria where he was tortured.

When Mr. Arar was eventually released the RCMP tried to hide the extent of its early involvement in the Arar case from senior federal officials, in order to head off a judicial inquiry. Certain RCMP officials leaked misleading information about Mr. Arar to the media to paint him in a bad light and cast doubt upon his story, thereby compounding their original bungling. Reporters like Juliet O'Neil of the Ottawa Citizen fell for the bait.

It is now clear that Mr.Arar has suffered greatly as a result of the RCMP's inappropriate provision of inaccurate allegations to the U.S. While Commissioner Zaccardelli may not have been personally involved in the original cock-up or the subsequent cover-up, nonetheless he is accountable for the actions of his employees and for not clearing up the mess once it became clear what they had done. Therefore, he should do the honourable thing and resign. If not, the government should fire him. And they should ensure that those who actually participated in the transmission of false information to the U.S. and subsequently covered it up are brought to justice.

In a democracy the police are not above the law.


Is B.C. violating Canada Health Act?

According to the Globe and Mail, patients willing to pay up to $1,400 to a private medical broker have been able to receive MRIs within days at one of British Columbia's largest public hospitals, while those sticking with the public health-care system languish for months on long waiting lists:

Heidi Bozek, who suffers from painful tumours on her knees and right hand, said this week that she paid the money to Timely Medical Alternatives Inc., after learning she faced a four-month wait for a publicly funded MRI.

A few days later, much to her surprise, she received a daytime MRI session lasting three hours at busy St. Paul's Hospital in downtown Vancouver.

"I couldn't quite understand how a public facility could be contracted out to a private organization for me to have my MRI," Ms. Bozek told reporters, adding that she had expected to be referred to a private clinic.

How does this square with the provisions of the Canada Health Act? Is B.C. in violation for allowing public facilities to be used for private gain? And what about the newly elected President of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Brian day, who is committed to advancing two-tier for-profit health care in Canada?


Afghanistan: Harper's Achilles Heel?

On July 20 I suggested that Afhanistan might well cost Harper his desired majority. In the weeks since then, as the body count has mounted, polls are increasingly confirming the majority of Canadians are uncomfortable with Canada's current involvement in full-scale battle in Afghan. Indeed, foreign policy appears to be the Achilles'Heel of Harper's plans to secure a majority.

The vaunted five priorities have been long forgotten by many Canadians. If an election were held today, as Chantal Hebert observed in the Star, Afghanistan would likely be the central issue and would deny Harper his majority. Indeed the potential loss of seats in Quebec and perhaps elsewhere might well cost him the government.

As Hebert observed:

While opposition to the deployment is highest in Quebec, unease over the gist of Conservative foreign policy is running rampant across the country.

The scenario of a federal election turning into a national referendum on the Afghan mission is one that the government's decision to rush a parliamentary vote on a two-year extension of the deployment last spring was supposed to pre-empt.

Back then, the political rationale for the early vote was to remove the issue from the radar of the next election by pushing the deadline for reconsidering Canada's commitment to Afghanistan off to 2009.

In hindsight, it is increasingly apparent the Prime Minister has outsmarted himself.

By committing quickly to an extension, Stephen Harper has foreclosed on the option to bring the troops home in February as had originally been planned, leaving him with no political exit strategy from the Afghan file.