A civil society organization (CSO) with a specific focus on employing a participatory approach to promote transparency and governance process in the country has expressed its grave doubts on the success in the government’s food distribution scheme. In June, amid the effect of the COVID-19’s pandemic on the most vulnerable citizens, the Government of Liberia launched what it called a “stimulus package” to provide minimal food and credit assistance to communities around the Country.
The food package, as proposed, consisted of two 25 kg bags of rice, 1 gallon of vegetable oil, and 10 kg of beans to each qualified household to help sustain their families during the pandemic. The Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), funded by the Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative (LAVI), researched to strengthen transparency and accountability in Government’s rollout of the stimulus package by performing site monitoring visits to food distribution centers to assess how readily the centers are accessible to citizens, whether COVID-19 health protocols are being observed, and whether the distributions are provided citizens as planned.
Mr. Prince Desmond Gaye, the Project Manager of IREDD, told journalists on Monday, August 17, 2020, that the initial steps taken by IREDD in monitoring were efforts involved in writing both the World Food Program (WFP) and the Ministry of Commerce for the comprehensive plan on food distribution. Unfortunately, both failed to provide us with any plan whatsoever.”
Follow-up with civil society representatives on the Covid19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP) also failed as we were told there is as yet, no comprehensive plan or schedule; that the food distribution is done community per community,” Mr. Gaye said. “In spite of these initial challenges, IREDD’s team found that the World Food Program (WFP), contracted by the Government to leverage its expertise in food distribution, further sub-contracted two local non-governmental institutions: Christian Humanitarian Services (CHS) and VOSEIDA West Africa to carry out the local distributions.” Gaye indicated.
“With the basic information we have regarding the food distribution, IREDD monitored GOL food distribution in 10 communities located in districts 7 & 8, comprising twenty distribution sites,” said Gaye. According to IREDD’s research, the findings of the first quarter monitoring exercise include the following: the distribution is hampered by the lack of a holistic distribution plan; both WFP and Ministry of Commerce do not have a complete framework for implementing food distribution and the food distribution exercise is moving at a very slow pace and this is mostly due to the strategy WFP is using. “For example, on the day of distribution, all resources are diverted toward the targeted area and it takes a minimum of 3 days to complete distribution in that area and another week before they move into a new distribution area. With this pace, This strategy limits our speed and could hinder the achievement of some deliverable,” noted.
Gaye added that some homes have not been enumerated by LIGIS and were not issued tickets during the food distribution. The overlooked homes have registered their complaints with VOSIEDA and CHS. “The serving of the 50kg beans to five households at a time is not convenient as citizens have to await four other households before being served; and there was an ongoing political primary by the Coalition for Democratic Change at West Point Town Hall on Friday, July 31, 2020, while food distribution was ongoing nearby. The primary proceeded between two distribution sites (Church of Pentecost and N.V Massaquoi) which increased overcrowdedness and interfered with movements in and around distribution sites,” Gaye furthered.
Meanwhile, IREDD is calling on the World Food Program and the Ministry of Commerce to provide the public with a complete framework for the rollout of the Government’s stimulus package relative to food distribution including timelines, location, and costs. IREDD also calls for the enforcement of COVID19 health protocols at all distribution sites to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease; the World Food Program to deploy more people in the field to increase the pace of food distribution and that distributors should treat citizens with dignity by making distribution sites more conducive and accessible to them, mainly the elderly and physically challenged in an event of rainfall while people are in the queue.
“While IREDD recognizes the hard work of local organizations; CHS, VOSIEDA West Africa, it is our hope that the $25 Million invested in the food distribution meets its intended purpose,” Gaye stated.