The Auditor General’s Report on Cyclone Idai Donations – Economic Governance Watch 5/2021

The Auditor-General’s Report on Cyclone Idai Donations : A Sorry Tale of Mismanagement

Background

Cyclone Idai and its effects

In March 2019 the eastern part of Zimbabwe was affected by Cyclone Idai which came off the Indian Ocean into Mozambique, tearing through the port-city of Beira and going further inland to leave a trail of destruction in Chimanimani and Bikita districts. At least 340 people were killed and many others went missing. It is not certain what the death toll was. Some bodies were washed into Mozambique and could only be buried after being found and repatriated. Livestock were drowned or swept away and food stores destroyed. More than 270 000 people were affected and 17 608, were left homeless. Bridges, roads and schools were washed away, leaving some areas accessible only by air. Continued rain and rock slides hampered rescue work.

Declaration of State of disaster

The Government declared a state of disaster in the affected districts in terms of the Civil Protection Act, which allows emergency measures to be taken to deal with disasters and sets up civil protection committees and officers at national and provincial levels to prepare for disasters and manage relief operations when disasters occur. The national committee and its officers are collectively referred to in government circles (though not in the Act) as the Civil Protection Office or the Civil Protection Unit [CPU].

Special Audit

The Auditor-General was asked to do a special audit report on Disaster Preparedness and Distribution of Cylone Idai Donations in Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces in terms of section 11 of the Audit Office Act. In August 2020 she presented her report, covering the period from March to September 2019. The full Audit Report can be accessed on the Veritas website .

The Audit Report’s Findings

The Auditor-General’s findings can be summarised in the following quotation from the beginning of her report:

“The unimaginable and colossal damage inflicted by Cyclone Idai caught the Civil Protection Organisation unaware and ill-prepared to deal with the disaster of such a magnitude. … There were no robust and water-tight procedures and policies designed to match and address emergency disasters of the kind posed by Cyclone Idai. Proper and adequate record keeping was a challenge.

The report goes on to record a distressing tale of confusion and mismanagement in which donations and money were misapplied or went astray:

Lack of planning

The provinces and districts most affected by the cyclone did not have updated disaster management plans, contrary to the requirements of the Civil Protection Act. No simulations had been carried out to test local committees’ readiness to deal with disasters, and there were no inventories of equipment and no lists of volunteers and suppliers. One particularly telling detail is that in November 2018 the Department of Meteorological Services distributed 20 radio units to transmit early cyclone warnings at ward level in Chimanimani, but no messages were broadcast ahead of Cyclone Idai.

Slow disbursement of donated funds

The call for donations met with an overwhelming response from local institutions and international humanitarian organisations: over US$3 million and R20 million was received through the Ministry of Finance. However, rescue and rehabilitation work was hampered by slow disbursement of donated funds. For example, road repairs in Chimanimani stopped when contractors were not paid. The Manicaland Provincial Development Committee reported it needed Z$15 million for its work in June 2019, but three months later it had received only Z$5 160 000.

Delayed distribution of food and medicine

Some donations of food and medicines expired in warehouses before they were ever distributed. In some instances, the goods had been in warehouses for more than four months while victims still waited for help. At one forward distribution centre the Auditor-General found that over 33 tonnes of goods had expired, and that food had been stored on the floor and exposed to high levels of moisture. Chipinge District Civil Protection Committee received expired food items from the Province which they had to destroy on August 21, 2019. Victims of the cyclone complained they had received expired mealie meal and flour on several occasions. Distribution of medicines was slow and some were delivered too late to be distributed before their expiry dates. The Auditor-General noted an absence of proper needs assessments to ascertain the requirements of hospitals and clinics in the affected areas.

Lack of co-ordination

The national and provincial CPUs did not have overall authority to distribute donations that were brought by development partners, i.e. by non-governmental organisations and agencies engaged in relief work. Some of development partners had their own ways of distributing aid which varied from province to province and district to district. There was also lack of co-ordination between subcommittees formed by the CPUs to carry out various relief tasks, and the subcommittees did not have standard operating procedures.

Inadequate records of goods received and distributed

The audit revealed a lack of records showing what donations had been received and how and to whom they had been distributed. As the Auditor-General said:

“I observed that no proper records for relief items received and disbursed were maintained. There was no uniformity in accounting for donations from Manyame Airbase to Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces as there were no detailed dispatch documents and receiving registers … Furthermore, there were no full descriptions of items such as the quantities or units received in order to determine the total quantities/volumes donated. There were no standard formats used for receiving and distribution of relief items. …The issue vouchers used to distribute goods to the affected households could not be matched to the distribution forms, as some sheets did not reflect what was distributed or who was receiving the goods and there were no signatures and national identity numbers of recipients.”

Inadequate records of payments

Contrary to the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act and Treasury Instructions, Manicaland CPU processed payments amounting to Z$1 422 751 for goods and services without adequate supporting documents. The Auditor General said this was caused by “the absence of supervision in the processing of expenditure. Therefore, I was not able to evaluate whether economy was exercised in the procurement of the same.”

Ghost workers?

The audit discovered that there were discrepancies about the number of people who worked during the disaster as relief workers. Nearly 1 500 people worked on the project in both Manicaland and Masvingo provinces. There were 1 013 civil servants and 410 uniformed forces including youth officers who worked at various stations during the period from mid-March to the end of August 2019 and who did not receive their outstanding allowances. According to the Auditor-General:

“… The Human Resources subcommittee did not have the registers for these staff members to verify if indeed they worked under Cyclone Idai. … The return submitted for audit did not reflect where the officers were stationed. I was therefore not able to authenticate the accuracy and completeness of the outstanding travel and subsistence allowances.”

Inadequate rehabilitation

As a result of the deficiencies listed above, the Auditor-General found that the rehabilitation of areas affected by Cyclone Idai, and the relief given to survivors, fell short of what was needed.

In Bikita District alone there were 40 families living in tents at the time of the report, still waiting for cement that had been promised to enable them to rebuild their homes. Of three new resettlement areas identified for victims of the cyclone, the layout plan of only one had been approved at the time of the audit; the layout plan of another had been delayed because the relevant government department had not been able to carry out a geo-technical survey of the site to determine if it was fit for human habitation; and the third was occupied by illegal settlers who refused to be moved.

The Auditor-General’s Recommendations

Arising out of her findings, the Auditor-General made several recommendations of which the following are important for dealing with future disasters:

  • Disaster plans should be developed after meetings with all relevant officials to identify gaps in the system and requirements for equipment, training and resources.
  • There should be liaison between the CPU and the Meteorological Services Department to ensure that radio units are used to warn of impending cyclones.
  • District CPUs should ensure that there is proper planning, as well as training in stores management and needs assessment, to ensure that relief items are distributed while they are still fit for human consumption. The Ministry (i.e. the national CPU) should develop a standard procedures manual to give guidance in the recording and accounting for donated goods. All officers should be made aware of these procedures.
  • The CPU should liaise with Treasury to ensure the speedy release of funds to enable recovery operations to be done in the affected provinces.
  • The National CPU should come up with a statutory document that lays down clearly how development partners should act and requiring all donated goods to be put under the control of CPU officials so as to ensure sound co-ordination between the CPU and non-governmental organisations.
  • To assist people affected by disasters, there should be a waiver of some of the requirements for acquiring national registration documents and educational certificates.

Conclusion

The Auditor-General’s report revealed serious deficiencies in the response to the Cyclone Idai disaster two years ago. It is to be hoped that the Government has taken careful note of the report and of the recommendations made in it, because other disasters will occur and Cyclone Idai will certainly not be the last cyclone to devastate the eastern districts of this country.

Source: Veritas

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