“ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY are improved through the forms (checklists & etc.) including receipts of expenses”, the Efate Offshore Islands Food Distribution Manager (FDM), Fred Samuel, reminded the Team Leaders and the volunteers during their de-brief earlier this week at the OGCIO Conference Room.
“To ensure that the distribution is safe, fair, and transparent, at least one member of the Vanuatu Mobile Force will be on hand at each distribution. Criminal penalties will apply to corruption, disruption, or misallocation of food rations”, a press statement by the government on 22 April reaffirmed the government’s commitment to fair distribution and penalties for corrupt acts prior to the operation taking place.
The Efate Offshore Islands Team includes individuals from Moso, Lelepa, Nguna, Pele and Emau. Fred Samuel, a native of the offshore island of Nguna himself, highlighted boldly one of the major challenges involved in the operation; family ties –
“I do not care who it is, if it is my family I do not care, I care about the process,” he expressed.
The islands of Moso, Lelepa, Nguna, Pele and Emau received their second phase of relief supplies on April 23 – 24. 25,000 tonnes of supplies including a 5% buffer of supplies were loaded on board MV Melissa, it departed early in the morning on 23 April and returned after loading off the last supplies at Emau Island by nightfall the same day.
58 bags of rice were damaged during the operation, fortunately the 5% buffer supply managed to replace the damaged supplies. It was also reported that some of the statistics on the ground were not consistent with the statistics brought in from Port Vila. On Lelepa Island several different figures were presented by different community leaders, but this was later resolved as a geographical case, the differences in numbers was the result of the movement of people to and from Port Vila and those residing on the Lelepa mainland.
Overall, the operation went smoothly. At distribution points communities were allowed to question the volunteers and the Team Leaders, community leaders were also notified in advance of what was to happen when the supplies finally arrived. “The people were there when we arrived”, explained a Team Leader on Nguna, community volunteers assisted greatly with the distribution effort, it was the same case in all the offshore islands.
“They (villagers) liked it when we went there, because the first distribution was not good that is why people complained,” explained some of the Team Leaders. The de-brief revealed that during the first distribution a lot of the process confused the communities, “they just came and dropped the supplies and then they left”, but this time around the comments were different and positive.
Storage points were properly organised, and community leaders were properly informed. “We have yet to receive any complaints”, reported Mr. Fred Samuel, who is also the Government Chief Information Officer, he further advised that he is open to complaints, “they are lessons to be learned, and from there we can move on”. The photos and updates of the operation were posted regularly on Facebook therefore providing to the public a transparent real-time view of what was happening.
Transparency, accountability and honesty was emphasized throughout the de-brief. Did this process worked? Maybe! We have yet to see the response and feedback from the communities that were visited.
Compared to the first phase of relief distribution there is already a huge difference. However we also have to take note of the other factors that were involved, for instance the first phase occurred during a period of urgency while the second phase occurred more than a month after TC Pam stormed Vanuatu, a lot of extra supplies were already delivered to the islands by different groups and families thus reducing the urgency of the situation.
But still, it is the process that matters. Being transparent and accountable with what you do, especially when it is of the public’s interest, it makes you trustworthy and reliable. It boosts your confidence and sets highly your standards and principles.
Transparency International Vanuatu (TIV) volunteered to assist in the second relief operation, being represented by a TIV senior officer on the island of Nguna.