Humanitarian Aid Check Blown Before It Arrives

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Vol 39 Issue 31

News Anchor Wonders Where All These Great Stories Come From

SALT LAKE CITY, UT—Midway through a story about new evidence in an unsolved area homicide, KTVX news anchor John Reesen wondered aloud where all the great stories come from. "Yet another gripping investigative report, right here on KTVX," said Reesen, during Tuesday's News At Ten. "Wow. Who comes up with this news?" Reesen posed a similar question to weatherman Gary Yount, wondering who could possibly know all that science stuff.

Republicans Introduce Economic Equality Bill For Fun Of Shooting It Down

WASHINGTON, DC—Republicans in the House of Representatives proposed H.R. 2093: the Economic Equality Initiative, with the express purpose of shooting it down "just for kicks" Tuesday. "H.R. 2093 will level the economic playing field, spreading the wealth among the rich and poor," said Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), visibly fighting back snickers. "We must pass this bill to stop the fat cats from getting fatter while the average Joe struggles to make ends meet. Also, I'm the Queen of Bavaria." Following 10 minutes of uproarious laughter, the congressmen stepped out of the chamber to smoke cigars lit with a bill that would allocate $115 million to clean up hazardous waste sites.

Avid Fisherman Forever Ruins Fishing For Son

MANKATO, MN—Thanks to his nitpicking, impatience, and insistence on absolute silence in the boat, avid angler Don Gillespie, 41, forever ruined fishing for his 10-year-old son Douglas Tuesday. "No, no, no—you're casting all wrong," said a visibly seething Gillespie after Douglas' line landed a mere three feet from the stern of the rowboat. "Forget it! Just let me do it, and I'll hand you the rod afterward." Douglas was further put off fishing when his father threw back the only fish the boy caught all day because it was not big enough.

Last Great Party Of Life To Result In First Child

LAKE CHARLES, LA—Unbeknownst to him, 27-year-old Ron DuPree attended the last great party of his life Saturday, as a 3 a.m. coupling with girlfriend Tamara Harris will result in a child nine months from now. "That was the best party ever," DuPree said to friends on Monday, oblivious to the seed of life now growing in his soon-to-be-wife's womb. "I was so wasted! God, Tamara and I have to start getting out on the weekends again." In addition to enjoying his last great party, DuPree will also soon bid farewell to liquor, cigarettes, and most of his current friendships.

Hussein Family Can't Bear To Throw Out Uday's Favorite Nutsack Shocker

AWJA, IRAQ—Relatives, sorting through boxes at Uday Hussein's home Tuesday, couldn't bear to discard one of the deceased tyrant's favorite torture devices. "Oh, how Uday loved his electric nutsack shocker," said Uday's uncle Karim Suleiman al-Majid, as he sifted through a box of clamps, cables, saws, and 8-volt batteries. "And here's that trusty little knife he would use to dig eyeballs out of their sockets." Al-Majid said he is sure that Uday would have wanted his favorite cousin Nawaf to have the roll of flensing wire.

This Job Isn't Nearly As Exciting As The DeVry Institute Led Me To Believe

When I was 18 or so, I used to watch Ricki Lake on Channel 9 every afternoon. During the commercial breaks, I always saw ads for the DeVry Institute Of Technology. One ad featured a group of mostly male students eagerly crowded around a single computer in a fluorescent-lit classroom, on the fast track to earning their degrees. Another ad showed a recent DeVry graduate striding into a windowless block of an office building like he had the world by the tail. Everyone looked ready to dive into a high-paying career, and I wanted that for myself. I was hypnotized by the fast-growing field of technology. But now, 12 years later, I'm stuck in a job that's not nearly as exciting as the one the DeVry commercials led me to expect.
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Humanitarian Aid Check Blown Before It Arrives

LILONGWE, MALAWI—A much-needed humanitarian aid check from the United Nations to Malawi was "totally blown" by the beleaguered Southern African nation before the actual payment arrived, government officials admitted Tuesday.

Grain that Malawi never should've bought.

"We've been living so hand-to-mouth lately that, as soon as we received word that aid was coming, we began buying some necessary items," President Bakili Muluzi said when reached by phone at his home office. "We got a little out of control. Then again, we couldn't bear the thought of another dinner of bark."

The $50 million check, a combination of funds from UNICEF, World Food Programme, and other U.N. agencies, was intended to help alleviate disease and famine in Malawi, which has been devastated by recent flooding and the sub-Saharan AIDS pandemic. Although the check wasn't due to arrive until Aug. 11, Malawi officials were promised the money on Aug. 4 and behaved as though the cash was already in their hands.

"When we found out money was on the way, we celebrated by immediately going out and buying 200,000 bushels of maize," Malawi Agricultural Minister Chakufwa Chihana said. "We even said, 'What the heck, let's throw in a little millet.' Big mistake."

Government officials also bought fuel and medical supplies, promising suppliers that a big check was on the way.

"When we flashed the letter from the U.N., our suppliers were more than happy to float us a few imports, just until the check arrived," Muluzi said. "Unfortunately, we didn't keep track of every little crate of AIDS medicine. When we added it all up, it came to, like, 40 million bucks."

A few high-ticket items sneaked onto the list of purchases, among them a new computer system for an agricultural weigh station outside Chilumba.

"We told ourselves we would only get the things we really needed," Muluzi said. "But when we found out that the weigh station needed a new computer, we figured it was now or never."

Giddy with the promise of a large cash deposit, Malawi lent struggling neighbor Mozambique $1 million, under the express agreement that Mozambique was to repay the money Aug. 8, when its own relief check came in.

"Bad move," Muluzi said. "In terms of repaying loans, Mozambique is as bad as Tanzania. On payback day, [Mozambique Prime Minister] Pascoal [Mocumbi] called me and said that we still owed him money for the cashew nuts and sisal twine we imported in February 1996."

One of the many small purchases Malawi officials failed to realize would add up quickly.

On Aug. 6, unanticipated events plunged Malawi further into debt. A mudslide outside Lilongwe devastated a shantytown and displaced hundreds of its residents. The problem was compounded by bandits in northern rural areas who prevented aid trucks from entering the disaster area until large payments of cash and food were made.

"Then, the goddamn fan belt on our newest food-distribution truck broke," Muluzi said. "Fixing it set us back a lot, even though it was less than two years old. What could we do, though? We needed to distribute the maize."

Deep in debt, Malawi officials resorted to tactics employed during past cash crunches. Government employees found their paychecks postdated two weeks. Interest payments to creditors were delayed by the deliberate transposing of addresses on envelopes. Creditors who phoned government offices were thrown off by deceptive outgoing voicemail messages claiming that the government was out of town and would be back Aug. 20.

Such tactics are common among countries receiving assistance, according to Malawi's U.N. humanitarian aid advisor Donna Roush.

"It's obvious what [Finance Minister Friday Jumbe] was trying to do," Roush said. "Malawi has been independent for decades, and he's written enough checks to know that if you owe somebody $74,000, you can't write in $47,000 and have no one notice."

"Although money is often tight right before a large aid check is due, countries must resist the urge to splurge," Roush added. "If you live off money that doesn't exist yet, you have to pay the piper at some point. Resist the temptation. The key is to create a budget for yourself and stick to it. Save money by eating your own crops, instead of imports, and make sure your coal plants are running as efficiently as possible."

Roush's advice provided little comfort to Muluzi.

"The humanitarian aid people always act like recipient countries are irresponsible, but we're trying very hard to keep our spending in check," Muluzi said. "For years, we've had our eye on a brand-new hydroelectric plant for a site outside Blantyre. It would be totally perfect, but we have put the project on hold yet again, because we just don't have the money."

Continued Muluzi: "This whole humanitarian aid thing can be a real bummer. It's our money to keep, but technically, it's not really our money. We have to spend it the second we get it. It feels like we're never going to get ahead. What can I say? Being poor sucks."

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