The annual activity reports and audited financial statements of the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) for the years ended 31st December 2010 and 2011 respectively were Tuesday finally adopted by the Joint Session of the Public Accounts and Public Enterprise Committee (PAC/PEC) of the National Assembly.
Both reports were earlier deferred twice by the PAC/PEC due to the absence of a representative from the NDMA governing council.
Presenting the reports, Poulo O.N Joof, acting executive director of the NDMA, said the Agency came into being as a result of an Act of Parliament called the National Disaster Management Act 2008. He said its primary objective among others include the provision of an integrated and coordinated disaster management that focuses on prevention, preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery from disasters of emergency situations, and the management of their effects.
According to him, the NDMA was able to establish 98% of the structures within the Act during the years. "The latest comprehensive and documented hazard and vulnerability profile of The Gambia (The Gambia living with Hazard Report, 2007) have identified several core biological hazards as posing real potential threats to the country. These include insect infestation and epidemics (malaria, cholera, etc)," he remarked.
He informed the Committee that the country is also experiencing other natural hazards such as bushfires, severe floods, windstorms and coastal erosion, noting that the negative socio-economic impact of these disasters is very far reaching and hampers the achievements of the country's overall development goals.
He added: "Such potential hazards and disasters have become major development concerns for The Gambia Government, its development partners and the local communities. Consequently, both the Vision 2020 and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programme (PRSP II) recognise the country's vulnerability and exposure to natural and man-made hazards and disasters as a major and constant threat to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals."
Joof said since 2006, the Gambia government with assistance from the UNDP has taken the initiative to develop the national capacity for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) by setting up the National Disaster Management Secretariat under the Vice President's Office.
He pointed out that the Government's Disaster Risk Management is now focusing more on risk reduction and preparedness rather than on relief and rehabilitation, in-line with the 'Hyogo Framework for Action', noting that other measures taken by government include the establishment of the Disaster Management Council whose membership comprise mainly of Cabinet ministers and chaired by Her Excellency the vice president. He said The Gambia has also dedicated funds for disaster management by establishing the National Disaster Fund.
The NDMA acting executive director further told the Committee that the Agency operates within the five thematic areas of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), African Regional Strategy and the ECOWAS strategy. The thematic areas, he went on, are governance, improved identification and assessment of disaster risk; knowledge and education sharing, reducing underlying risk factors, and effective preparedness and response.
Commenting on the achievements, he said the period under review has seen marked improvement towards the objective of institutionalising disaster management and risk reduction in the country. Among those achievements, he recalled, are the decentralisation of the disaster management structures at regional, district, ward and to some extent village levels.
He said: "Resources are key in all our operations, without which NDMA would have not been able to achieve the objectives. Thanks to President Jammeh, who has always been giving support to the Agency."
Joof said in order to provide an integrated and coordinated disaster management, the Agency established structures that would ensure effectiveness in the implementation of its desired objectives.
Partnership building, networking
He continued: "Partnership building and inter-Agency network and collaboration are essential pre-requisites for effective disaster risk reduction as DRR is a cross-cutting development concern and thus involves everyone at every level and segment of society which supports development intervention and gains."
According to him, the NDMA being cognizant of this fact was able to establish concrete and meaningful partnership, both nationally and internationally, geared towards enhancing capacity development, networking, research and best practice.
In spite the tremendous progress made by the NDMA over the years, Joof said the Agency is faced with challenges, pointing out resource constraints and inadequate capacity on DRR as an issue of development within government and NGOs. He also highlighted that NDMA faces challenges of coordination, and timely and appropriate responses.
On her part, Fatou Sowe-Jaiteh, the finance assistant at the NDMA, said the monthly government cash allocation for personal emoluments and other charges to the Agency from the Ministry of Finance to Central Bank Account was D4, 046, 273, 98 in 2011. She revealed that the donations received for the Emergency Relief Fund was D12, 059, 409.95 in 2011.
In the external auditor's queries as revealed by the audit findings management letter, Pa Majagne Ndow of the National Audit Office revealed among others things that the NDMA operates as a self-accounting system but without its own accounting manual and as such NDMA is required to follow government regulations and instructions. He said they also discovered that there was no segregation of duties, as the Account Unit of the NDMA was manned by one staff, the Finance Assistant, who was 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/subvention account. Ndow said they also found out that there was a vacant position in the position of Operation Officer in the organisational structure of the Agency, which was created in 2009, to be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Agency.
He further revealed that they also noted un-repaid salary advances totalling D850 made to the former executive director of the Agency, adding that the advances were outstanding at the time of completion of the audit filed work.
Ndow further told the Committee that they also observed distribution of relief to disaster victims without assessment sheets, while disaster victims were assessed without relief items.
He revealed they also noted that payment of D137, 964.75 was made to the minister of Interior, Ousman Sonko, for the support for the relocation process and demarcation of flood victims from Kotu Quarray to Sotokoi, but there was no retirement with regards to the payment.
Responding to the queries, Joof said the NDMA is on the verge of appointing a finance and admin director as well as operations officer. He also said the management is doing follow-up to recover the un-paid salary advance.
On the issue of distributing items without assessment and also assessment without relief items, he said the management is taking up the issue with the concerned coordinators, adding that it is against the norm of disaster operation.
On the payment to the minister of Interior, Joof said 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 PS retreat.
Ibrahima Sanyang, a senior compliance officer at the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA), revealed that the NDMA was found to be mainly compliant with the Public Procurement Acts and Regulations.
Members then raised questions, concerns, recommendations, observations, and comments, which were responded to by officials of NDMA before the reports were finally adopted.