05/09/2005, 00.00
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Politicians take advantage of post-tsunami problems in electoral campaign

by Nirmala Carvalho
Four months after the tsunami, reconstruction is making little progress. Electoral interests and corruption are slowing down fund distribution. The state is handing out funds that belong to others.

Chennai (AsiaNews) – Politicians in Tamil Nadu are taking advantage of the suffering caused by the December 26 tsunami to gain electoral advantage, this according to Fr Thomas Kocherry, president of the World Forum of Fisher People and head of the Fishermen's Union, who spoke to AsiaNews.

"The problem is the great political mileage one can get in rehabilitating fishermen's livelihood," he said. "It's a tragedy how politicians are trying to take advantage of these folks' misfortune."

"There is an urgent need of housing [because] the rains are due . . . in a few weeks. The government should immediately locate sites and immediately build houses for the displaced," he added. "Instead, the government is only delaying construction . . . because of the elections. The woes of these people will never end."

Another problem relates to funds raised by the government and NGOs. State authorities are prepared to give fishermen loans with an 18-month moratorium on repayment with money paid back over a seven year period at seven per cent interest.

Father Kocherry explains that "people do not want loans. Even if they got their livelihood back, they are afraid they won't be able to pay the interest".

What is more, even those willing to take on a debt cannot do so because banks require collateral, but the tsunami has deprived fishermen of everything they had.

Some financial institutions are however able to waive the demand for collateral thanks to the initiatives of some investors and bankers.

For Father Kocherry, "all this is nonsense. There are ample funds with government agencies and NGOs, but they are reluctant to dish out money because there are politicians who do not see themselves as 'custodians of these funds' but rather as their 'owners'. The misery that prevails in fishing communities is clear for all to see, yet the entire disbursement procedure is mired in red-tape."

Initially, the Union Finance Minister Chidambaram had announced that 35/65 subsidies would be channelled through nationalised banks but Tamil Nadu complained, demanding the money be routed through the state in the form of grant.
In a statement made on January 29, 2005, the state's Chief Minister said fishermen did not want bank loans "for a variety of reasons and this is not the time to coerce them into obtaining a loan which they are not happy with."

On Wednesday, May 4, the World Bank released US$ 435 million in the form of soft loans to Tamil Nadu; however, it was not immediately known whether this was done in association with the central government or not.

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See also
Caritas India hands over 648 new homes to tsunami survivors
NGO cries foul as Paris Club set to penalise tsunami-stricken countries
Tsunami survivors flee flooded relief shelters
A tree for each Tsunami victim
Still no homes for Tsunami survivors


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