Four months after the gala rock concerts that raised millions of dollars for African famine relief, the celebrity organizers of the Live Aid Foundation are under fire from private charity groups who say the foundation is disorganized and has failed to move quickly enough to fund their proposals to aid starving Africans.

Earlier this month, Live Aid attempted to improve its administrative procedures by establishing an American operations center at Georgetown University. But officials of the private relief groups operating in famine-stricken areas of Africa also have criticized the Georgetown center, saying it has no direct experience in the famine relief field and is poorly qualified to evaluate their requests for funding.

At a meeting here last week with the director of the Georgetown Live Aid center, the Rev. Harold Bradley, representatives from 50 major voluntary agencies seeking Live Aid money for their projects in Africa strongly criticized the way Live Aid has handled the approximately $70 million it says it has raised for famine relief, according to some of those who attended the meeting.

Live Aid officials said they have purchased 17,000 tons of grain, 169 trucks, 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel and numerous other supplies. But officials in London and Los Angeles gave contradictory reports about their finances, and the organization's executive director, Kevin Jenden, said he was unable to provide detailed information about his organization's revenues and expenditures.

Live Aid has not yet released any audited statement of its finances in England or the United States. Jenden said he hoped to be able to release "a statement of affairs" by the end of November.

"There is a lack of clarity about how much money has been allocated and how much remains," said a senior official of one private relief organization. "I think these figures that are talked about just come off the tops of people's heads and then become gospel. Nobody really knows." The official declined to be identified, saying that public criticism of Live Aid might jeopardize his agency's chances of receiving Live Aid money.

"The situation has been chaotic ever since Band Aid the English version of Live Aid, founded by rock singer Bob Geldof and organized separately for tax purposes was formed," another senior relief official said. "We got some rumors to send in some proposals quickly to London and they just sat there and nothing ever got acted on. Many agencies have had proposals sitting in London and Los Angeles for months without anything occurring."

U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) and private relief officials cited the case of a mid-September request by the Save the Children Federation for an emergency $500,000 grant from Live Aid to transport 400 tons of chickpea seeds from Morocco to Ethiopia. Save the Children had already bought the seeds, which had to be planted within a two-week "window" following the Ethiopian rainy season. But it did not have the cash available to fly the seeds from Morocco to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

Live Aid previously had announced that it would provide money for relief agencies' emergency transportation needs. Later, it also had announced a cooperative agreement with AID, which was assisting Save the Children with its seed planting program. Every day for a week, Save the Children and AID pressed their request on Live Aid officials in London via telegram, telex and telephone. But as the deadline neared, no answer came.

Finally, AID administrator M. Peter McPherson stepped in and made a personal plea to Live Aid officials for the money. Despite contrary assurances from AID, Live Aid indicated that it wasn't sure the necessary clearances for the seed planting could be obtained from the Ethiopian government, according to AID officials, and it turned down the request. AID eventually agreed to reimburse Save the Children for part of its transport costs, and the seeds were flown to Ethiopia in time. The Ethiopian government cleared the planting program without incident.

AID official Ted Morris emphasized that the confusion surrounding Save the Children's request was an "exception" to an otherwise cooperative relationship between AID and Live Aid. "You're not going to win every little seed case," Morris said. A spokesman for Save the Children said his agency was "disappointed" that the request had been turned down, but said that it hoped subsequent proposals submitted to Live Aid for funding would be considered and approved.

"We're not here as a bail-out operation for Save the Children or anyone else. That's not our job," said Harvey Goldsmith, a Live Aid trustee. "Why the hell did they buy the seeds in Morocco if they couldn't move them?"

Live Aid representatives acknowledge that there have been delays in processing proposals but say their new Georgetown center will solve the problem by acting as a clearinghouse for famine relief proposals from U.S.-based charities. Officials at those charities, however, expressed doubts about the center's competence to do so.

"There is concern that they are not the most appropriate people to judge the merits of programs," said Peter Davies, president and chief executive officer of InterAction, an umbrella group of more than 100 American private voluntary organizations. "The center does not have any experience in the field."

"It's a little unnerving to many of us to find that a group that none of us knows anything about is deciding how to use a very large amount of money," said one senior charity official. "If you make one false step or fund an agency which is not legitimate or not able to carry out its responsibilities, you could sully the whole record of everybody, including Live Aid."

The Georgetown center, which had been primarily engaged in immigration policy research before hooking up with Live Aid, was selected after what one Live Aid official described as a "very informal" process. No other arrangements were considered.

It began last August, when Live Aid offices in Los Angeles were flooded with hundreds of famine relief proposals seeking to tap the millions raised at a pair of televised rock concerts in Philadelphia and London. Mike Mitchell, a Hollywood producer and one of the Live Aid concert organizers, decided that Live Aid's Los Angeles operation could not handle the requests for money. Mitchell was also anxious, now that the concert had been successfully staged, to return his full attention to his entertainment business. "The feeling was that everyone was getting inundated by the proposals," said Zoe Miller, a Live Aid project manager.

Mitchell's Washington attorney, John Ward, a Georgetown graduate and law partner of former Reagan campaign manager John Sears, volunteered to contact the university to see if it might be willing to sponsor a Live Aid center. When he did, university officials directed him to Father Bradley, director of Georgetown's Center for Immigration Policy and Refugee Assistance (CIPRA). On Sunday, Sept. 29, Bradley met with Live Aid founder Geldof in Washington; in early October, he flew to London to negotiate a final agreement. Under that agreement, all of the Live Aid center's administrative costs are covered by CIPRA's own budget, according to Bradley.

CIPRA's administrative expenses, totaling about $1 million over the last five years, have been paid for by grants from the Engelhard Foundation, whose endowment comes from a family fortune that originated in South African gold mines. Bradley said he never informed Geldof or any other Live Aid officials that CIPRA's administrative expenses have been covered by the New Jersey-based foundation.

The Engelhard Foundation was incorporated in 1974 by the widow of industrialist Charles W. Engelhard, who died in 1971. Engelhard built his fortune from extensive gold mining operations in South Africa, though he later expanded into South America, Europe and the United States. Shortly before his death, when gold mining in South Africa was in decline, Engelhard pulled his company out of the country. The Engelhard Foundation no longer receives money from South African gold mining operations. Typically, its donations go to educational, cultural, medical, religious, wildlife and conservation organizations.

Six years ago, when the foundation endowed a library at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, student protests erupted over the Engelhards' former South African connections, and the foundation finally agreed to allow the Engelhard name to be left off the library.

Bradley said that after Charles Engelhard's daughter Sophie offered to fund CIPRA in memory of a mutual friend who had been a professor at Georgetown, "I didn't involve myself any more in questions about the money."

"CIPRA will take money from any foundation," said David Waters, a spokesman for the Live Aid center at Georgetown.

Bradley said the increasing tension between Live Aid and the private organizations that operate camps and development programs in Africa is largely a result of Bob Geldof's attempt to force the charities to cooperate with one another before they receive Live Aid money.

"Each of the voluntary agencies has its own fund-raising mechanism and pretty much goes into a country to try to compete with each other for the poor. And Bob didn't like that at all," Bradley said. "One of the things he says in private is that he's convinced that the voluntary agencies themselves are at least partly responsible for the disaster in Ethiopia and Sudan . . . He doesn't want to appear to be like all the rest of the agencies that are self-serving."

Live Aid executive director Jenden will arrive in Washington this weekend for meetings with Bradley and AID officials. From London earlier this week, Jenden said he "can't understand" the frustration of the private relief groups.

"It's like selling cars," Jenden said. "Each agency will tell you that they're the best, and each agency will criticize the other agencies horrendously. We have to take a detached viewpoint . . . One thing we've seen over 10 months of operation is too many agencies not working closely enough together and a failure to save as many lives as might otherwise be saved. We're not saying we know more. We're just saying that maybe you need to stand back a little bit and get an overview."

Bradley's criticism of the private agencies is "valid," Jenden said. "They've not been encouraged to coordinate, so there has been duplication and waste. So until we see full and proper coordination, money will be wasted, and the public will respond to that cynically. We have to do what we can, including criticizing."

Jenden conceded that Live Aid "is not acting in a manner that previously established organizations have followed" and thus is vulnerable to criticism.

Live Aid and officials of the private relief groups agree that they must learn to cooperate, or the outpouring of contributions from the Live Aid concerts will be wasted. "We all really care about this long-term development," said Elise Smith, director of the Overseas Education Fund. "This is an opportunity that we all don't want to lose."