The Smoke in The Gambia COVID-19 Food Relief Package

Report by Frederic Tending

After the first Covid-19 case in March 2020, the government of The Gambia responded with containment measures that included restrictions on economic activities such as closure of open markets “lumos” , and other businesses. The impact of Covid-19 on food security was quite imminent, with an earlier rapid assessment report by World Food programme (WFP) indicating that 733,000 people would be vulnerable to food insecurity during the lean season.

Following the high demand of food aid by Gambians, President Barrow launched a D734m COVID-19 food aid to support 84% “deserving households” in the Gambia. On April 23rd 2020, the government of The Gambia through the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment called for bidders to apply for the procurement and distribution of 230,000 bags of 50kg rice, 230,000 bags of 50kg sugar, and 148,000 10 liter drums of refined oil and the dateline was set at April 24th 2020 noon (24hrs after the call for bidding). By April 26th 2020, the food package was already procured and distributed. The whole process of calling for bids, vetting, procurement and distribution took less than 96 hours.

Many Gambians have criticized the design of the food relief strategy with predicted ambiguities. Over a year into the food distribution, the government food support strategy seems to have a slow bearing. Primarily, the food relief program projection of 84% of the Population in the Gambia as the number of people who will need food support was not met. According to the Government of the Gambia COVID 19 Food Assistance, all Households in NBR, LRR, CRR, URR and large parts of WCR will receive the Food Assistance. Vulnerable Households in Banjul, Kanifing Municipality and some communities in West Coast Region will also receive the food assistance. Meanwhile, some of vulnerable households have not benefited from the food distribution exercise, including urban poor and rural dwellers scattered in different regions of the Gambia.

To achieve the research objectives, a sound methodology was employed by Gambia Participates to assess the effectiveness and credibility of the Covid-19 food aid distribution. This is important not only to ensure reliable data is collected and analyzed, but also that valuable lessons are fed back into The Gambia Covid 19 Food Assistance response. Hence, the research hinges on the network of document reviews, questionnaire administration, key informant interviews and focus group discussion. The data was collected from 1176 households across the country.

Eight Local Government Areas (LGAs) and municipalities; namely Brikama, Kerewan, Mansa Konko, Kuntaur, Jangjangbureh and Basse and KMC and BCC were targeted. The sample respondents for the food aid investigation was obtained from the sample frame of NDMA Distribution points.

Oil, the least distributed food aid commodity

The survey collected information on the government COVID-19 food aid. The information collected focused on the receipt and distribution of the food aid, the handling of the food aid coupons, and household perception about the procurement process for the food aid.

Concerning receipt of the food aid, about 85 percent of the households surveyed reported that they received the food aid. About 15 percent reported that they didn’t receive anything. This indicates that the food aid has indeed been supplied to more than three quarter of the households in The Gambia.

About what moment they received the food aid, the majority of the households reported to have received the government food aid few months after the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

In particular, about 78% reported that they received their supplies of the food items between May and July 2020. Only 1.3% reported that they received the food supply in October 2020 while about 21 percent reported that their food supply was delivered between August and September. Asked at which location the households received their supplies, about 87% of the household respondents revealed that they received the food items at the distribution point in their community. About 9% received it outside their community and only 4 percent of the household respondents reported that they received the food items in their compound.

Looking into the type and nature of the food items received by households, about 99% of households said they received the rice, about 97% said they received the sugar, and about 85% said they received the oil. Therefore, the results indicate that oil was the least distributed of the three food items.

Although about 83% of the respondents, an equivalent to 842 households, said their household received all of the food items, a percentage of 2% claimed to have received only one item. Another 15% of the household respondents indicated that they were supplied with just two of the food items.

Discrepancies in the food distribution

About the quantity (in Kilograms) of food items received by the households, we used the template developed by National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) to determine how much a household should receive depending on its size.

The respondents in households with 4 people or less received on average 50kg of rice, 50kg of Sugar, and 9liters of Oil. When compared to the NDMA food distribution recommendation, these households received about twice the quantity of food items they were supposed to receive.

Household size with 5 to 10 People received almost the same quantity from the three food items as specify by NDMA. Household size of 11 to 15 people received approximately the actual amount of rice and Oil, but were supplied less in Sugar.

Meanwhile, household size of 16 to 20 people received about the same quantity of rice but got less of sugar and oil, while household size of 21 to 40 people received less of all the three food items. Also, household size of 40 to 100 people received almost the actual amount of rice but less of sugar and oil, household size of more than 100 received almost less of all the food items about 236kg of rice, 144kg of sugar and 20 liters of oil.

Before the supply of the food items, the NDMA was supposed to issue coupons to all eligible households. As a result, the survey also collected information on coupons receipt. The results of the research showed that 79% of the surveyed households indeed received the coupon before the distribution of the food items. But a sizeable percentage of about 21% of the households we surveyed reported that their household didn’t receive a coupon, which is really staggering.

Consequently, although a substantial number of households received a coupon, the survey results shows that not all household got a coupon before receiving the food items. We further queried the relationship between the coupon receipt and the household self-reported income levels. This includes asset ownership, and livestock ownership. Looking at income for instance, the results show that the majority of the households surveyed who received a coupon indicated that their household income is between GMD 1,001 and GMD 5,000 per month, about 27% of such households reported that their family income is between GMD 5, 001 and GMD 10,000 per month, and about 20% of them have a monthly income less than GMD1000. Similar results were obtained for the other welfare indicators such as asset and livestock ownership.

Therefore, there is some evidence from this survey that there was a good correlation between coupon distribution and poverty level (measured using income, asset and livestock ownership); in particular, poor families were most likely to have received the coupons than richer families.

Regarding when the coupon that was received, approximately 49% of households received the coupon in May, 16% in June, and the list goes on in a chronological order to November, which is about 0.1%.

The results indicate that about 65% of households surveyed received the coupon early while about 35% received the coupon late. Furthermore, the study also compared whether a coupon was received early or late with the probability of reporting a missing food item.

The two-sample t-test with equal variance revealed that households that received their coupons late, experienced a higher probability of to have missing rice and sugar. The difference was significant on rice but insignificant on sugar to about a level of 5%. Also, the households that received their coupons early have a higher probability to have missing oil and this was significant to a 5% level.

The research also collected information from households on whether payment was requested during coupon disposal. About 99% of households surveyed said that officials who were distributing the food aid did not request for any payment while only about 1% said payment were requested for the coupons.

On who in the household received the coupon, about 87% of the surveyed households reported that the coupon for their household was received by the head of their household. Furthermore, about 3% said it was the son or the daughter of the head and 5% reported it was the brother of the head who received the coupon for the household.
The majority of the estimated 6% replying that another person received the coupon, described that person as the spouse of the household head.

As to where they received the coupons, the results shows that about 52% of the surveyed households said they received the coupon at the issuing center in their community. About 36% reported that the coupon was delivered to their home and 9% said they received it in other places.

The respondents were also asked whether there were discrepancies between the quantity indicated in their voucher (coupon) and the actual quantity of each food item they received. 86% of the surveyed households said there were no discrepancies. But a substantial size of 14% of the respondents reported that they were discrepancies, which is really striking. Out of those who said there were discrepancies, about 95.3% reported that they received less than what they were supposed to receive, and about 4.7% said they received more than what they were supposed to received.

Households with 4 or less and 41 to 100 members had missing oil

Reports on missing food items from the households surveyed show that about 78% of the households reported that they have a missing oil. About 26% and 27% of the respondents indicated that they have missing sugar and missing rice respectively.

Thus, oil is the most reported missing food item, which resonates with informal discussion with some NDMA staff. Information on missing food item by household size indicates that all households with 4 or less and 41 to 100 members reported they had a missing oil.

All the other household size categories have higher probabilities of missing oil except household size of more than 100 which had 0% of missing oil. Another interesting result is that all the surveyed households with more than 100 members reported that they had not received all the rice they were supposed to receive. The missing food item was also analyzed by region, and the results show disparities in reports of missing food items across region. Of the households that reported missing food items, about 9% of them are in CRR North and about 22% in CRR South. In addition, about 6% are in LRR, 8% in NBR, and 12% in URR.

There is evidence of disparities of missing rice across the various regions. In particular, out of the total households that claimed discrepancies in the rice they received, about 6% are from CRR South, 50% from LRR, about 9% from NBR while about 12% of these households are from URR.

However, all the households from CRR North and KMC revealed there wasn’t any form of discrepancy in the rice distribution. There is also evidence of discrepancy during the distribution of sugar across the regions.

Out of 33 of the total households claiming discrepancy in the sugar distribution, about 6% are from CRR North, 12% are from CRR South, 36% are from LRR, about 6% from NBR while about 9% of these households are from URR.

In conclusion, there was discrepancy in the sugar distribution in all the region.

There is also strong evidence of discrepancy in the distribution of oil during the food aid across the various regions. 99 out of the 127 households interviewed claimed discrepancies in the oil distribution. About 55% of the households are from CRR North, about 6% are from LRR, and about 18% are from NBR while about 2% of these households are from URR. Thus, CRR North, one of the poorest regions of the country, has the highest proportion of households with missing oil. However, all the households from CRR south revealed that there wasn’t any form of discrepancy in the Oil distribution.

When asked generally, whether they received the food assistance on time or not, approximately 71% of the respondent said they received the food aid on time while about 29% reported that the food aid was not delivered to them on time.

On the extent to which the food was helpful in addressing the food scarcity problem that households faced during the COVID-19 lockdown, the results show that about 74% of households reported that the food aid had benefited them greatly, about 25% said it benefited them to some extend and only about 1% said it made no difference at all. Overall, a substantial majority of the households surveyed found the food assistance helpful.

On the quality of the food items, about 33% said the food items were of an excellent in quality and about 0.1% said the food items were very poor in quality and about 6% said the quality of the food items is average. Overall majority of the respondents reports that the food items were of a good quality.

The households surveyed were also asked whether the distribution of the food items was gender sensitive. While about 28% of the respondents said they can’t tell, a big size of about 54 percent said it was not gender sensitive, which is staggering. Hence, it appears the distribution of the food items did not put a lot of emphasis on gender inclusiveness.

The Food aid and Corruption

In this section, the study looked at household perception on corruption in the procurement, delivery, and distribution of the food items.

About 38% of the households interviewed believed that there were corruption practices during the distribution process of the COVID-19 food aid by the government. About 4% believed that there were corruption practices during the procurement of the COVID-19 food aid items, 8% sighted such practices were present during the transportation to distribution of these items, while about 32% of them said it was more common during the distribution of the items in the community.

In fact, almost 29% of the households were aware of such practices in their respective collection points. However, almost half (46%) don’t know about the presence of corruption practices during the distribution processes.

Another information collected, was whether respondents are aware of instances where staff are warned to desist from corrupt practices; about 65% of the households interviewed were not aware of any staff being cautioned on corruption practices during the distribution of the COVID-19 food items. Only 5% attested that staffs were warned on corruption practices. In addition, 11% of the households interviewed exposed that almost all (or most) of the officials were involved in corruption practices, about 18% of the households said only few officials were involved while 16% of them revealed that hardly any officials were involved in such practices.

The survey also looked at the knowledge of what strategies were adopted by their community to curb the COVID-19 food aid distribution menace. About 7% of the of the respondents indicated that their communities expose perpetrators, about 6% of the respondents said their community put in place internal measures as part of the routine system and 5% of respondents think that communities liaising with the law enforcement agencies to curb the menace with COVID-19 food aids can curb the menace with the COVID-19 aid. However, 41% of the households interviewed revealed that their respective communities did none of the strategies to curb the menace with COVID-19 food aids, which shows that overall, not much is being done at the community level to tackle corruption with government assistance at the community level.

Another perception indicator on corruption collected in the survey is the perception on the level of corruption with the food aid. About 23% of the households rate the level of corruption with the food aid as very high while about 16% deem it moderate and 21% of these households rate it low. In addition, 55% reported that their rating is based on personal experience, about 22% of respondents said their assessment was based on discussion with colleagues or others and about 3% said it was based on information received from the media. Taken together, these results highlight that the COVID-19 Food aid was not free of corrupt practices.

Regarding, how corruption could be tackled, about 19% of the respondent recommended a call for the removal of "immunity" from office holders to enable law enforcement agencies to go after any perpetrator of such felony, 20% recommended government to set up due process mechanism in order to allow the award of contracts to be in accordance with the lay down rules and regulations. Meanwhile 15% requested that the law enforcement agencies be well equipped so that they can carry out their duties effectively, as 10% suggested the public be enlighten on the consequences of perpetrating financial abuses and economic crimes. 18% recommended participation of local authorities or leaders throughout the disaster relief cycle.
Interestingly, setting due process mechanism and removal of immunity on public officers are the most rated options for measures to curb corruption.

Likewise, 45% of those who recommended the government and law enforcement agencies to adopt these strategies in curbing the mismanagement of COVID-19 food aid distribution strongly agreed that their suggested measures identified above can be addressed. Specifically, about 38% of the respondents only agreed while about 4% never agreed at all.

In addition, about 85% agreed or strongly agreed that the performance will be improved if these measures are address. However, about 3% are pessimistic that these measures will improve performance.

When the households were asked to state two things, they want to change in order to reduce corruption, most cited or recommended that government employs competent officials, prosecute the culprits of corruption with the full force of the law, and ensure transparency in the distribution process. They further advocate for attitudinal change, empowering the citizens (especially the youths) to revolt against such practices and requested the government to intervene in order to reduce these corruption practices.