Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, today reported to Parliament that the Department for International Development have made a major contribution to easing the humanitarian crisis arising from the problems in Kosovo. And there are lessons for the future, for example in the way the Department plan for emergencies and manage their relationship with key suppliers.
The report notes that the Department have been operating in difficult, unpredictable and dangerous circumstances. The refugee flows from Kosovo into Macedonia and Albania and back were the largest and most sudden population movements witnessed in Europe since the Second World War. In the circumstances the Department had to act quickly – speed was of the essence. Immediate action was needed to provide care for the refugees. The Department took a leading role, both in the provision and co-ordination of assistance, while the international response was brought together.
The NAO found that the Department made an almost immediate impact through rapid action. They were fully involved in the work to alleviate the refugee crisis in Macedonia and Albania – including arranging airlifts of humanitarian supplies. They also played an active role in establishing the international presence in Kosovo, including the provision of support to the United Nations-led interim civil administration. The Department have also been at the forefront of major projects in Kosovo, including the restoration of power and water supplies, and provision of health services, and they have played a leading role in mine survey and clearance operations.
The report identifies four key lessons for the future. They are designed to help the Department ensure that they are able to respond to future emergencies in ways that maximise the value for the taxpayer’s money and satisfy the requirements of public accountability, whilst still enabling them to maintain their focus on saving lives and relieving suffering.
- The Department need to ensure that funds made available for emergencies are fully and promptly accounted for, and redeployed if not needed. To provide cash for field operations in the region, by October 1999 the Department had transferred funds totalling some £14 million to accounts in the Department’s name with Crown Agents Financial Services Limited. The Department transferred funds where they considered that the scale of expenditure was greater than Crown Agents could be expected to carry, and were influenced by the anticipated speed of expenditure and the requirement for cash in an area with a fragile or non-existent banking system. As a result of changing circumstances in the region the funds transferred exceeded the amount needed – over the first six-months of the Department’s field operations the month-end balances on these accounts did not fall below £2.7 million in total. There were also delays in the production of formal accounts of expenditure. The Department recognise the need to adjust the level of funds transferred quickly while retaining flexibility in a fast evolving situation, and are taking steps to make appropriate adjustments.
- As the Department rely on outside assistance to maintain their emergency response capability they need to ensure that there is proper management of the supply chain. Their contract with Crown Agents to provide an emergency response team did not envisage the workload that proved necessary. It was not re-tendered until eight months after the original contract expired and the Kosovo crisis hindered the completion of the bidding process. To ensure continuity of response to on-going emergencies the Department extended the original contract until the new one was signed. The Department’s separate arrangements with other contractors for air chartering had also expired. Between April and 1 July the Department obtained 54 air charters costing a total of £2.3 million, but could not demonstrate whether they were getting the best deal and paying the correct fee. The Department are taking steps to ensure that there are clear arrangements for its future air chartering requirements.
- The Department need clear and structured arrangements for monitoring projects they fund, and need to be more consistent in their approaches to obtaining reports from grant recipients and visiting projects. The Department provided some £18 million for projects run by non-governmental organisations, but it took time for the Department to develop their monitoring arrangements because of the sheer pace of events and the large number of projects approved in a very short period of time.
- In the light of their experience in relation to the Kosovo crisis, the Department agree on the need for standardised procedures for field offices and action to develop these is now in hand. The absence of standardised procedures for their newly established field offices in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia meant that overall administrative effort was increased at a time when staff needed to give as much time as possible to the emergency in hand, and it raised the risk of inappropriate systems being put in place. The absence of standardised procedures arose, in part, from the Department’s policy prior to the Kosovo crisis, that they would not be involved at such an operational level on the ground – hence there was no expectation that the Department would have emergency field offices.