Learning from the 2011 drought response: Integrity and accountability critical in enhancing effectiveness of food assistance efforts
For several years, food aid has represented the largest component of emergency response and has been the most consistently funded in Kenya; 2011 was no different. With 3.75 million Kenyans affected by food shortages, the Government of Kenya and the international community launched a national response effort. It is against this background that Transparency International-Kenya with the collaboration of government and non-state humanitarian actors conducted a study on the integrity of food aid provision in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) of north and north-eastern Kenya during the 2011 drought response.
The ‘Food Assistance Integrity Study’ highlights various approaches of food assistance in Kenya with the aim of enhancing integrity, accountability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the implementation of food assistance programmes. The study uncovered evidence of critical flaws in the food assistance chain and highlights concrete recommendations to specific sector players to enhance integrity, accountability and effectiveness of food assistance programming. The study was conducted with the close cooperation of key actors in the sector, namely the Government of Kenya, United Nations, humanitarian and donor organisations.
This study was conducted through desk research, key informant interviews in Nairobi and the ASAL regions, and focus group discussions with communities receiving food assistance in West Pokot, Turkana and Wajir counties between September and December 2011. The study uncovered evidence of critical flaws in the food assistance chain and highlights concrete recommendations to specific sector players to enhance integrity, accountability and effectiveness of food assistance programming. The study was conducted with the close cooperation of key actors in the sector, namely the Government of Kenya, United Nations, humanitarian and donor organisations.
- General food aid seen as most susceptible to corruption: The study sought to establish the risks facing different food assistance instruments in Kenya namely general food aid (in-kind), cash transfers and vouchers. The vast majority of respondents perceived general food aid as attracting the highest risk in terms of ensuring an effective, efficient, accountable and transparent response. Food aid was also considered to be more prone to risks than other in-kind sectors, largely due to its scale and the weaknesses in its transparency and accountability mechanisms. Cash transfers are perceived as less prone to corruption due to the emphasis placed on strong systems and reliance on electronic disbursement channels.
- Politicisation of food assistance: There was evidence of political leaders, local elites and local relief committees influencing the determination of beneficiaries. With regard to personnel recruitment, concerns were raised on internal pressures to employ relief staff from certain communities, or due to political interference. There were also risks and challenges in transportation partly due to political influence in procuring the trucking companies, and transportation costs not being adequately resourced by the Government thus increasing the likelihood of food rations being looted and sold or both, as a form of payment.
- Failure to respond to early warning signs: Lack of response to early warning signals has perpetually stalked relief efforts in Kenya, often leading to late, rushed and politically pressured response in Kenya. Some organisations struggled to place strong procedures in place in the limited time available, heightening the risks of corruption and diversion; the quality and effectiveness of the response initiatives were also comprised and not well monitored. P.T.O
- Weak coordination and policies: The current disaster management and food aid structures, multiple actors and lack of government policies on and guidance for food distribution contributed to a relatively weak understanding of ‘who is doing what and where’. These led to duplication of efforts and impeded the prioritisation of areas and population in most need. “There were multiple actors involved in food assistance in response to the drought in 2011. There were attempts at increasing the coordination of food aid, but without much impact. For example, a Food Taskforce was set up but it met very few times,” said the Executive Director, Transparency International-Kenya, Samuel Kimeu during the launch of the Food Assistance Integrity Study.
- Poor communication: Concerns were raised over lack of information regarding the number of actors involved, how much food is intended for distribution, period of delivery, and the responsibilities of the various actors in the distribution chain.
- All actors in food aid should carry out joint analysis of corruption-related risks regarding different food assistance instruments (in-kind, voucher and cash transfers), identify mitigation measures, and processes for joint monitoring of food assistance activities.
- Non-governmental humanitarian organisations should address corruption risks ahead of emergency responses by for instance monitoring programmes to increase oversight and build their capacity to scale-up other aspects of programme support. There is also need to strengthen and coordinate complaint mechanisms aimed at addressing incidents of relief diversions and malpractices.
- The Government of Kenya should embrace the letter and spirit of the right to information as espoused in the Constitution of Kenya, in carrying out food assistance programmes. It should adopt a proactive stance by providing more regular, accurate and timely information to the public regarding response efforts, resources raised and disbursed, food allocations, delays and changes in rations. “It is also imperative that the government evaluates its response to last year’s drought to establish a baseline of performance measures and share lessons learned for future improvement,” said Mr Kimeu.
- Donor governments should promote transparent reporting of corruption cases and related challenges by partner organisations, and increase resource investments for field monitoring, downward accountability mechanisms and forensic audits.
“This report will offer guidance and support to the many humanitarian actors who devote their lives to alleviating hunger and will enhance the effectiveness of food assistance programmes in Kenya. We hope this study will promote the participation of citizens in monitoring humanitarian assistance and reporting cases of corruption,” said the TI-Kenya Board Chair, Dr Richard Leakey.
The study is the first step of the TI-Kenya’s Humanitarian Aid programme whose focus now shifts to advocacy and capacity building of stakeholders. TI-Kenya will partner with civil society organisations in Wajir, West Pokot and Turkana in training local communities to actively monitor and report suspected corruption cases in food aid and other basic services. Through TI-Kenya’s Advocacy and Legal Advisory Centres (ALACS), the programme will seek to enhance effectiveness of community-based complaint mechanisms and their linkages with watchdog institutions at the county level such as the Commission on Administration of Justice, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights.
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