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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gambia: Disaster agency wrestles with inadequate capacity, working against the norms of disaster operation


The Bakoteh dumpsite situated opposite the SOS children's village poses a great health risk and also has the potential to cause a health disaster (Photo credit: Panoramio)
The acting Executive Director of Gambia’s Disaster Management Agency Poulo O.N. Joof has admitted the local agency’s inadequate capacity to effectively tackle Disaster Relief Reduction as an issue of development within government and civil society.  
 
The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) is resource constrained to effectively coordinate and ensure timely and appropriate response to disasters, Mr Joof said on Feb. 5, 2013. 

He was presenting the agency’s annual activity report and audited financial statement from Dec. 2010 to Dec. 2011 to a joint session of the Public Accounts and Public Enterprises committees (PAC/PEC) of the National Assembly on Tuesday.

Both reports were earlier deferred twice by the committees after representatives of the NDMA Governing Council failed to appear before the PAC and PEC. However, the reports were adopted on Tuesday. 

There is a serious capacity gap at NDMA, admits Hon. Alagie Sillah, Member for Banjul North, who asked whether the NDMA is not in a position to fulfil its mandate.

Hon. Sainey Mbye, a Member for Upper Solumn noted that the NDMA receive support from local and international donors who would like see their funds put into good use.

NDMA has lots of experienced people in their governing council, but the way the Agency is run is so unfortunate, Hon Mbye said.

“We have to look at the capacity gap of the NDMA critically,” he said. “A regional coordinator with a motorbike cannot cover a whole region.” 

In 2007, the NDMA published a report “The Gambia living with hazard” which documented hazards and vulnerability profile of The Gambia. 

The report identified several core biological hazards as posing real potential threats to the country. These include insect infestation and epidemics (malaria, cholera, etc).

"The NDMA distributes relief to disaster victims without assessment sheets, and in some cases disaster victims were assessed without relief items," Pa Majagne Ndow, an auditor reveals.

But Mr Joof said the country is also experiencing other natural hazards such as bushfires, severe floods, windstorms and coastal erosion.

The negative socio-economic impact of these disasters are very far reaching and hampers the achievements of the country's overall development goals, he said.
“Such potential hazards and disasters have become major development concerns for The Gambia Government, its development partners and the local communities,” he said.

Despite the inadequacies, Mr Joof said the Gambia Government is now focusing more on “risk reduction and preparedness” rather than “relief and rehabilitation”. He said this is in-line with the “Hyogo Framework for Action”.

Other measures taken by government include the establishment of the Disaster Management Council whose membership comprise mainly of Cabinet ministers and is chaired by the vice president. The Gambia has also dedicated funds for disaster management by establishing a National Disaster Fund. 

The NDMA operates within five thematic areas: governance, improved identification and assessment of disaster risk; knowledge and education sharing, reducing underlying risk factors; and effective preparedness and response.

He claims that 2011 has seen marked improvement towards the objective of institutionalising disaster management and risk reduction in the country.

These include the decentralisation of disaster management structures at regional, district, ward and to some extent, at village levels.

Finance

“Partnership building and inter-Agency network and collaboration are essential pre-requisites for effective disaster risk reduction.

DRR is a cross-cutting development concern and thus involves everyone at every level of society which supports development intervention and gains,” he said.

Fatou Sowe-Jaiteh, a NDMA finance assistant said the monthly government cash allocation for wages and other charges to the Agency stands at D4, 046, 273.98 as of 2011.

She revealed that donations received for the Emergency Relief Fund was D12, 059, 409.95 in the same year.

Auditors’ queries

But an auditor from the National Audit Office, Pa Majagne Ndow revealed that the NDMA operates as a self-accounting system but without its own accounting manual.

As such, NDMA is required to follow government regulations and instructions, he said. 

He said there is no segregation of duties as the Account Unit of the NDMA is manned by one staff, the Finance Assistant.

This finance assistant is responsible for keeping all books of accounts including petty cashbooks and petty cash, fuel coupons and fuel register, cheque books and preparation of cheques and also a signatory to the operations or subvention account, he observed.

He also observed that the NDMA distributes relief to disaster victims without assessment sheets, and in some cases disaster victims were assessed without relief items.

But the agency’s boss Mr Joof said the management is taking up the issue with the concerned coordinators. He admitted that it is against the norms of disaster operation to assess without relief items or distribute relief items without assessment sheets. 

Mr Ndow revealed that the agency paid D137, 964.75 to the Minister of Interior, Ousman Sonko, to support the demarcation and relocation process of flood victims from Kotu Quarray to Sotokoi, but there was no retirement with regards to the payment.

The NDMA has made the necessary follow-up but the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Interior who is keeping the documents was in Kanilai for the Permanent Secretary retreat, said Mr Joof.

Compliance

Ibrahima Sanyang, a senior compliance officer at the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA) said the NDMA was found to be mainly compliant with the Public Procurement Act and Regulations.

Written by Modou S. Joof

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