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. In Europe, concern that tsunami aid is spent wisely
PARIS (AFP) Jan 06, 2005
As tens of millions of dollars in government and private donations continued to swell Asian tsunami relief funds Thursday, officials and charitable organizations said they were concerned to make sure the money is spent transparently and effectively.

On the international level, European officials warned in Brussels, there was a risk that corrupt local officials would siphon off aid for themselves.

More immediate was evidence from around the world of thieves and tricksters taking advantage of the outpouring of public generosity. Overwhelmed with donations, major charities pointed out they had inhouse rules to check on the way money is collected and disbursed. In some countries, the charities are watched by independent bodies.

European foreign ministers were scheduled to meet Friday to discuss how to invest the 1.5 billion in reconstruction aid pledged by the EU in the wake of the disaster, which has so far claimed more than 146,000 lives.

The EU money adds to pledges by individual countries -- notably 500 million euros by Germany.

However, Louis Michel, the European Union commissioner for humanitarian action warned of the danger of making inflated aid pledges that may not be honored.

"I am interested in pledges which are really spent," he said.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said his government, which has pledged 50 million pounds (71 million euros, 94 million dollars) would not engage in a bidding war with other countries to see which could offer the most.

The easy part is pledging money, "the much more difficult part is to ensure that the money pledged is first paid and secondly is then spent wisely and in a coordinated way," Straw said.

In Berlin, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he would seek to ensure, during a visit to the region later this week, that Germany's 500-million euro aid pledge is spent effectively. He said he was concerned that aid could be sidetracked for political reasons or because of civil conflicts in the area.

Meanwhile the major private European charities and non-governmental organisations said they also were concerned to ensure that the unprecedented outpouring of aid in the aftermath of the December 26 disaster is handled transparently and efficiently.

Either they have their own rules about how donations are disbursed or they are controlled by outside agencies.

The rules were seen as a key means of retaining public confidence in the light of reports that in some instances thieves have exploited the public's generosity.

Donations continued to pour into the charities. In Britain, the Disasters Emergency Committee, representing a dozen major charities, said that donations passed the 100-million pound (142 million euros, 187 million dollars) mark.

In the Netherlands, fund-raising TV and radio programs helped bring to 72 million euros the amount of private donations in that country.

The Polish Caritas organization said it was setting up a system to help sponsor individual orphaned children in the region, following reports that young people were at risk from human traffickers and pedophiles.

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