Samoa Observer

APIA, Samoa (Oct. 13, 2009) - Aid is as often as not channeled through governments -- but it is not generally intended for governments.

Emergency relief aid donors give their hard earned cash and goods to help people recover from disasters. Note they aim to help people, not governments. Aid isn’t or at least shouldn’t be political.

But as should be obvious aid donors cannot all fly to Samoa and hand out their offerings to individuals and organizations as they see fit. It’s just not practical.

So many of them give their aid in cash and kind to the government as a convenient means of helping those in need.

It’s not perfect as some aid distribution workers found out in Samoa last week. They were "leaned upon" by petty local politicians trying to en sure that their constituents, their villages, received the aid first and foremost whereas the aid workers sought to distribute according to need and not political or social allegiance.

There was the inevitable compromise and the program moved ahead.

The important point to remember, however, is that the aid, by and large, did get to where it was intended to go. Again we should remember that much of this aid was distributed by volunteers and not by government.

Can the same result be guaranteed when aid in cash or kind is given to governments to distribute evenly and fairly according to need? Much depends on the government, of course -- but it’s by no means a foregone conclusion that the government’s priorities will coincide with those of the donors or even those of the aid recipients -- or would-be recipients.

This is certainly not to say that all governments are corrupt (though of course some are). It’s just that wherever we find governments we find politics. It’s inevitable. The two can never be separated.

And in any case why shouldn’t politicians have a say in aid distribution? What’s the difference between a Samoan taking cash and goods to help a relative in need and a politician seeking to direct aid to his or her close supporters?

The difference is this. The family is giving of its own resources. It can do as it wishes with its own cash and goods. A government official or politician on the other hand is trusted to distribute other people’s cash and goods. It’s not their own money that they’re dealing with.

So, yes, there is a very important difference.

That said, it doesn’t mean that government to government aid will be put to political use by the government of Samoa. Australia and New Zealand -- who have each committed US$4.5 million in reconstruction aid -- have expressed confidence that the government of Samoa will administer that cash in a responsible manner. There’s no reason to doubt their confidence.

But wouldn’t it strike a resounding blow for transparency and accountability and set a shining example for this region of the planet if the government were to publicly account for the cash aid it received?

In that way the people of Samoa as well as our friends overseas who have contributed so generously in the wake of the terrible disaster that struck us two weeks ago would be able see that everything was done on the basis of need and the best outcome for all.

Of course there would be grey areas and a certain amount of politicking and bickering -- but that might seem a small price to pay for transparency.

However, accounted for or not, the help from our friends throughout the world has at once humbled and inspired us. This newspaper adds its voice to the chorus of thanks. So many people have come to our aid it is impossible to thank them individually -- but they will never be forgotten.

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