Yaan earthquake

For earthquake victims, relief delayed is relief denied

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 3:41am

When it comes to relief aid for victims of natural disasters, the sooner the better. That is why rescuers and volunteers wasted no time rushing into Sichuan province after it was hit by a severe earthquake on April 20, the second fatal one in five years. Two weeks have passed. The local situation does not appear to have improved much. The death toll is close to 200 now; countless families who lost their homes are living under appalling conditions; makeshift shelters are still swarmed with the injured. Clearly, the quake-hit region still cries out for help.

Hong Kong has a well-deserved reputation for charity donations. In light of the Sichuan situation, the question of donating or not should be simple enough. Sadly, the HK$100 million relief funding set aside by the Hong Kong government is still languishing in Legco amid fears that the money might be misused by corrupt mainland officials. Given China's corruption record, the worries are understandable. But that does not justify denying the victims the relief aid they need.

Today, officials will again try to table the funding for a vote. Those who are sceptical are entitled to push the government for better monitoring and safeguards on how taxpayer money will be spent. But after careful scrutiny the funding should be approved. The same approach applies to vetting public spending in Hong Kong. Over the years, various departments were found to have wasted public funds one way or another. Recently, concerns have been raised that the HK$100 million extra funding for each District Council may be wasted on trivial projects that benefit no one. But that does not necessarily justify axing their budgets altogether. Instead, better mechanisms should be introduced to guard against misspending. In line with previous relief funding for disasters on the mainland and overseas, today's request is also based on humanitarian grounds. It should be approved as soon as possible. Relief delayed is relief denied.