Ministry of Disaster Management refutes Sunday Observer story

On Friday, June 16, 2017, our reporter Anurangi Singh received an email from Director/Planning of the Ministry of Disaster Management, Ms Sepali Rupasinghe, in response to an article published by the Sunday Observer of 04/06/2017 where we reported that the Ministry had used only eight percent of the capital allocated to it through the 2016 Budget

In her email, Ms Rupasinghe states, “The Ministry needs to correct the information which was published in the newspaper incorporating the actual situation in 2016. Accordingly, we prepared a report with the real information,” and seek publication of the report.

The full report:

Performance of the Ministry of Disaster Management, 2016

The Ministry of Disaster Management received Rs. 260. 6 million as Ministry Capital Vote in 2016 as budgetary provision.

Out of the said provision, the Ministry received only Rs. 21.79 million imprest for its capital expenses such as rehabilitation and improvement of buildings, plants, machinery and equipment, vehicles, purchasing of plant, machinery and equipment, training and capacity building and expenses for some activities of the UNDP-funded Sri Lanka Comprehensive Disaster Management Program (SLCDMP), Project to integrate global environment and Disaster Risk Management Agreement with the sustainable Development process in Sri Lanka through uplifting information management (Data project) and the Climate Change Adaptation project (CCAP) etc.

The total amount received as imprest has been spent for the above tasks.

The said amount of expenditure was only 8 percent of the total capital allocation of Rs. 260.6 million but it represents 100 percent expenditure when it is taken as total imprest of Rs. 21.79 million which was received to the Ministry for 2016.

The above two UNDP funded projects is being implemented by the Ministry of Disaster Management since 2014 the SLCDMP program for five years and since 2015 the CCAP program for three years.

SLCDMP started to implement 42 disaster related programs coordinating 45 government ministries and agencies.

In 2016, a three-day residential training program was conducted with the Department of Surveys on disaster risk mapping for technical officers in 13 Local Authorities under the SLCDMP.

Further, a by-law on disaster risk reduction was formulated and passed for the Central Province and plans are being prepared to formulate by-laws as a pilot project for the Kandy Municipal Council, Hatton Dickoya Urban Council and Ambagamuwa Pradeshiya Sabha.

A training program was conducted for technical officers attached to the landslide prone areas on the building of disaster resilient houses.

A program was conducted to stabilize landslide prone areas and unstable areas along the railway track in the Badulla district.

Regulations were formulated for a national housing policy.

The Disaster preparedness process was strengthened in the Gampaha and the Colombo districts while conducting training programs on GIS and Project Management for relevant officials as well as Post Disaster Need Assessment was conducted after the flood and landslide disaster in May 2016 to measure the economic and social impact of floods and landslides using internationally accepted methods with support of the UNO, World Bank and the European Union under the leadership of the Ministry of Disaster Management and the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs.

A sum of Rs. 8.4 million has been spent for the above all programs implemented under the SLCDMP with the assistance of UNDP direct financial support.

Under the Climate Change Adaptation Project, divisional level climatic vulnerability maps have been prepared for Kurunegala, Puttalam and the Rathnapura districts.

Sixty climatic resilient village development plans were prepared based on the vulnerability maps for the said districts.

Thirty-four small tanks belonging to Mahananneriya Ellanga tank system clos to Mee Oya were rehabilitated in collaboration with the Agrarian Service Department based on identified development priorities in the Kurunegala district.

Resilient agricultural programs have been started for 60 high risk farming villages to adapt to climate change in the North Western Province in collaboration with Agricultural Department in the Province.

Action has been taken to implement the selected projects through the maps of floods and salinity which affect the lives of people with support of the District Secretary in the Puttalam district.

Flood and landslides risk maps will be prepared for the Rathnapura district and action has been taken to implement pilot projects identifying risk villages based on priorities in selected Divisional Secretariats in the Rathnapura district under the project.

A program has been arranged for 4,500 beneficiaries and 900 government officials to train them on climate resilient development planning and climate resilient livelihood development in the three districts.

Rs 192.76 million has been spent on the implementation of these programs of the Climate Change Adaptation project under UNDP direct financial assistance.

The total expenditure represents Rs. 201 million as direct expenditure by the UNDP for the implementation of the above activities of two foreign funded projects and ,therefore, the total expenditure of the Ministry was Rs. 223 million and represents nearly 86 percent as a percentage value under the capital performance of the Ministry of Disaster Management in the year 2016. (Annexure I).

Note by our reporter:

Our original report was extracted from the performance report that the Ministry submitted to Parliament and to the National Budget Department. The report was downloaded from the Sri Lanka Parliament website.

On page 6 of the performance report, under the heading planning and development activities, the Ministry of Disaster Management clearly identifies its financial reporting responsibilities.

“Financial and physical progress including other information of the Ministry and other affiliated institutions were reported once in a fortnight, month, quarter and annually under six formats with regard to the Zero Based Budget introduced by the National Budget Department from 2016.

Through this there is the possibility to check the efficient use of provisions allocated for the year and monitor the actual progress achieved by each project.

This also helps to achieve maximum utilization of the allocated provisions and to set limitations to the continuation projects and activities,” the report states.

As such, Ms Rupasinghe’s reply raises more serious questions than what it presumes to answer.

Parliament is the supreme body of this country and any information that is supplied to Parliament is considered sacrosanct and correct.

If, as Ms Rupasinghe claims our report based on the information submitted to parliament is not ‘real’, then the corollary is that the Ministry has provided ‘unreal’ information to parliament as nowhere in the performance report the amount spent under the UNDP program as described in her report and published above has been mentioned.

In fact, the performance report states that the only seven percent (approximately Rs 18 million) of “foreign aid grants” which presumably covers the UNDP grant that is described in her report had been used to finance the expenditure incurred by the Ministry in 2016.

In normal accounting standards, expenses incurred must match the financing. According to the performance report, the Ministry had incurred a total amount of Rs. 210,129,052.00 (covering all of the recurrent and capital expenditures for the Ministry and the Minister) and the financing covers exactly that total.

This is a primary check and balance that is carried out when preparing financial statements.

As such, the performance report, which one expects to be meticulous, passes that particular check.

On the other hand, it is hard to discern from her report whether or not the Rs 201 million which Ms Rupasinghe claims had been spent under the UNDP program has actually been spent in 2016 or is a cumulative cost for the whole program since 2014.

As stated above, according to the performance report, only Rs 18 million has been utilised in total from the Rs. 199 million that was available as foreign grants in 2016.

According to her report, the ministry has received “only” Rs 21 million as interest from the Treasury because the rest of the expenditure, presumably, had been funded by a UNDP program that had been negotiated in 2014.

Therefore, it begs the question as to why the Ministry then requested a total of Rs. 260 million for capital expenditures from the 2016 vote.

Given that the ministry was aware of the amount available through the foreign grants, one can only presume that the money not spent was deemed necessary for disaster preparedness activities including provision of strategic logistics, upgrading of the meteorological department’s climate prediction program, upgrading of the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) landslide prediction abilities, inter ministerial communications etc, all of which was proved to woefully inadequate last month, resulting in the deaths of 213 people and 76 missing, affecting 119,546 families, 134 others still in hospital with life threatening injuries, loss and damage to hoses recorded over 23,000. 

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