WFP Sets Records Straight On Controversy Surrounding Funding, Budget And Implementation of Food Support Program In Liberia

NEWS REPORTER
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 The World Food Programme (WFP) Liberia says it remains committed to collaborating with the Government of Liberia (GOL) for the successful execution of the GOL COVID-19 Household Food Support Programme (COHFSP) as an important safety net for people affected by COVID-19 in Liberia. This programme is providing a month’s supply of food (50 kg of rice, 10 kg of beans and 1 gallon of vegetable oil per household) for around 2.5 million most vulnerable people across all of Liberia. Transportation and distribution will cost approximately US$3.60 per person and are covered under the WFP budget.

Guiding Principles of WFP Interventions

WFP’s top priority is to meet the food security and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable and needy communities in Liberia. WFP distributes food in a fair, gender-sensitive, accountable and transparent manner to ensure that the most urgent needs are met in an equitable way, and that the highest standards of assistance are applied, providing value-for-money to our partners who support our vital work in Liberia. As the world’s largest humanitarian organization working in over 80 countries and serving nearly 100 million of the most vulnerable people, its operations in Liberia are guided by international standards and driven by the principles of neutrality, independence, accountability and professionalism.

Broad Delineation of Roles Between WFP and Government on the COHFSP

As part of the Government’s strategy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, WFP was delegated with the responsibility of implementing the COHFSP given its capacity, experience and expertise in managing emergency relief programmes. President George Manneh Weah has appointed a National Steering Committee (SC) as an oversight mechanism to ensure the COHFSP is implemented in the best interests of the affected populations. The SC provides the broad terms of reference for the food support programme; strategic oversight and operational guidance to the programme; and offer advice to WFP – upon WFP’s request – on various logistical and methodological issues that might benefit from the SC’s expertise. All operational decisions regarding the execution and financial management of the COHFSP are made by WFP, consistent with its rules and regulations. The objective of this requirement is to ensure fairness, transparency and accountability over the procurement, distribution and other aspects of this important programme. WFP reports on achievements related to the implementation of the COHFSP through the SC. WFP Liberia therefore thanks the Government of Liberia for recognizing the Organization as a trusted partner in the fight against COVID-19 emergency. WFP is applying its thorough knowledge of the Liberian food security, nutrition, logistics and emergency environment as well as its adaptability to operate on a huge scale and in complex situations such as the one that Liberia is experiencing.

Partnership Strategy

WFP applies a whole-of-society approach to deliver its lifesaving and life-changing assistance. In order to reach a large number of affected communities quickly, especially in emergency situations like COVID-19, WFP works in collaboration with cooperating partners (incl. NGOs) to provide the best services on the ground. These partners operate through community structures and organizations; ensuring a community-driven distribution and implementation of the programme.

Who Is Targeted and How

In line with President Weah’s speech and the Liberian Legislature’s resolution authorizing the State of Emergency, the COHFSP will “prioritize the vulnerable population and the first responder population to wit: the disadvantaged youth, the homeless, orphanages, senior citizens, people with disabilities health workers and security personnel deployed in the frontline of the enforcement of the State of Emergency”. The Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) is conducting the enumeration of households. LISGIS data will be the primary basis for beneficiary selection, particularly for community-based distributions. Based on various criteria agreed among stakeholders represented in the SC, for which data is being collected through the LISGIS enumeration, the most vulnerable households will be determined and selected to ensure the programme reaches around 2.5 million people, including the first responders and vulnerable groups.

Estimated Cost of the Programme and Key Cost Components

The total budget of the COHFSP is US$30 million, comprising the cost of the food basket (rice, beans and vegetable oil) as well as costs of storing, transporting and delivering the assistance to vulnerable households targeted through this programme. These account for US$25 million directly from the Government of Liberia and US$5 million from the World Bank. WFP understands that the Government has transferred the amount to WFP’s account as per the signed Memorandum of Understanding between the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP). The value of the food is estimated at an approximate total cost of US$20.4 million, pending the final award of all contracts to suppliers. The portion of the budget that constitutes the costs of storing, transporting, and delivering the assistance (or operational costs) is estimated at US$7.8 million. These costs include in-country transport cost, costs for cooperating partners supporting the programme, food safety and quality control, casual labour services, household enumeration/registration, among others.  LISGIS’ enumeration exercise will cover over 500,000 households at less than US$ 3.4 per household.

Around 6 percent of the budget goes towards meeting essential minimum costs for WFP to deliver its lifesaving assistance – this is standard across all the countries where WFP works and is in line with international standards of aid delivery. These include allocations toward the support costs of the Liberia Country Office directly linked to the execution of the programme (e.g. applicable rental costs, back office staff costs etc) and allocations toward the support costs of WFP Headquarters/Regional Bureau in their oversight and support function, called Indirect Support Costs (ISC). Together, these can be referred to as the administrative costs.

Resources from the COHFSP budget are independently managed by the WFP and not by the Government of Liberia. Government entities will receive resources for specific food-related tasks, such as enumeration, which LISGIS is leading, or communications and security through WFP’s accounting and financial management systems.  The COHSFP has established a Finance and Budget Committee chaired by the World Bank that approves expenditures.  WFP will provide a financial report on expenditures accrued for the implementation of the COHFSP to the Government through the Steering Committee.

More on Indirect Support Costs (ISC)

ISC deductions are applied to all contributions made to WFP operations for food or cash to beneficiaries in all countries of the world. The ISC rate and the framework guiding ISC-related issues are approved by the WFP Executive Board, comprised of representatives from 36 member states of the United Nations or member nations of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. These comprise the support that WFP corporately provides to ensure transparency and accountability across all its operations. This is crucial, for instance, in our procurement processes, where the involvement of WFP’s HQ and Regional Bureau allows for the correct check and balance across any money that is spent to reach our beneficiaries. ISC funds cover investments in corporate systems and other capabilities essential to keep WFP at the cutting edge of humanitarian and development assistance, including in critical areas such as vulnerability assessment and mapping; programme design, planning and implementation; supply chain management and logistics; resource management; social protection; food tracking and accountability; monitoring and evaluation; reporting and management of programme output and outcome data; accountability to affected populations/beneficiaries; among others.

These allocations also facilitate investments in robust information and communications technology to facilitate the day-to-day work of WFP operations across the world. Additionally, ISC allocations allow WFP HQ to provide legal, auditing, compliance and other services to country offices; as well as guidance, oversight and other support in critical functional areas such as Programme, Logistics, Procurement, Finance, Human Resources, Administration, Information and Telecommunications, Security, Communications, Monitoring and Evaluation, among others. These will prove essential to the successful delivery of the COHFSP.

WFP Stands Ready to Support Government

WFP Representative and Country Director, Ms. Karla Hershey, said: “WFP recognizes that challenging times like the COVID-19 emergency require strong collaboration and we are proud to support a programme that is for the people and by the people, whilst assisting the Government of Liberia to respond to and recover from this crisis”.

Local Procurement

WFP has a long history of using local food procurement to support smallholder farmers and other actors along agricultural value chains in Liberia. In 2008, WFP commenced activities in Liberia related to its Purchase for Progress (P4P) pilot initiative. Through P4P, WFP supported smallholder farmers to increase their production and productivity, provided them the technical and financial resources to process and package their surplus to meet the minimum requirements of WFP and other institutional buyers, and linked them to various market opportunities such as the WFP-implemented school feeding programme which procured much of the rice for its Girls Take-Home Ration (GTHR) programme over the years from P4P-supported smallholder farmers or their groups or aggregators with smallholder farmers in their supply chains. This initiative accounted for some of the first bags of “Made in Liberia” rice that came on the Liberian market after the war. Such was the novelty and impact of the intervention that P4P was cited in at least two State of the Nation Addresses to the Liberian National Legislature during the previous administration. Much of the effort under P4P focused on rice, but a lot of work was done on the value chain for beans as well.

Since the end of the P4P pilot in 2013, WFP has continued to purchase locally produced food for its programmes. WFP went further in 2017 when it launched its Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF) pilot programme in Liberia. HGSF was subsequently incorporated in the WFP Liberia Interim Country Strategic Plan (ICSP, Jan2018–Jun2019) and has since been mainstreamed into its Country Strategic Plan (CSP, Jul2019-Dec2023). Under the HGSF initiative, WFP made regular cash deposits in the bank accounts of government and community schools in Nimba County. Schools then used this cash to buy locally produced rice, beans and red palm oil — as well as eddoes, potatoes, plantains and other local food crops — from producers/sellers within the school community. WFP received feedback from various sources in Nimba that several smallholder producers were increasing their production in response to the micro-purchases from schools. WFP has since reviewed this programme and come up with a re-design which will improve its efficiency and effectiveness for the people that we serve.

As a further commitment to local food systems and agricultural value chains, WFP Liberia made a big effort with WFP Headquarters beginning November 2019 to advocate for red palm oil to become an approved commodity for WFP programmes. In the face of the COHFSP, this effort was expedited. As a result, red palm oil is now an approved commodity for WFP operations, with its own code and other identifying details in the relevant WFP corporate systems, thereby paving the way for any country where WFP operates to buy Liberian red palm oil. This creates an enormous opportunity for actors in the red palm oil value chain in Liberia, especially in view of the high preference for Liberian red palm oil in the ECOWAS area.

Under the COHFSP, WFP’s longstanding commitment to local producers remains unchanged. Despite the urgency of implementing the programme, WFP is determined to ensure that local producers benefit from the market opportunity this initiative presents. The food support programme is being funded by US$25 million from the Government and another US$5 million from the World Bank. The US$5 million is earmarked to be programmed for locally produced food commodities only (covering food costs and other costs), and the US$25 million for both imported and locally produced commodities (covering food costs and other costs as well). WFP is procuring as much local red palm oil and locally produced rice meeting minimum quality standards as can be speedily supplied to cover the requirements of the food support programme. Any gap between what is needed and what can be supplied from locally produced commodities will be met from imported stocks available locally. All beans will be procured locally.

Finally, WFP wishes to assure the people of Liberia that the Organization will leave no stone unturned in delivering the COVID-19 Food Support Programme in line with the letter and spirit of the task at hand and with transparency and accountability to the country. WFP further wishes to applaud the Liberian media for being fit-for-purpose, open, and consultative in properly informing the public as a basis for a fair and transparent process that stands to benefit Liberia going forward.

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About Post Author

NEWS REPORTER

Alphonso Toweh Alphonso has  been in the profession for over twenty years. He has worked for many international media outlets including: West Africa Magazine, Africa Week Magazine, African Observer and did occasional reporting for CNN, BBC World Service, Sunday Times, NPR, Radio Deutchewells, Radio Netherlands. He is the current correspondent for Reuters. Mr. Toweh holds first MA with honors in International Relations and a candidate for second master in International Peace studies and Conflict Resolution.
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