Amid controversies surrounding Liberia’s coronavirus stimulus package food supply, the World Food Program (WFP) says it independently manages resources from the Liberian Government’s COVID-19 Household Food Support Program (COHFSP) budget, and not the Government managing the resources.
Through a statement released Wednesday, 17 June, WFP says the total budget of the COHFSP is US$30 million, comprising the cost of the food basket comprising rice, beans and vegetable oil, as well as costs of storing, transporting and delivering the assistance to vulnerable households targeted through this program.
WFP’s statement comes at a time the chairman of the COVID-19 food distribution steering committee and Commerce Minister Prof. Wilson Tarpeh denies telling the Liberian Senate that WFP charged the government here US$9 million in “administrative and operational cost” to distribute food to vulnerable Liberians across the country.
Prior to the WFP releasing the statement Wednesday, there have been public condemnations of the alleged US$9 million administrative and operational cost, with some Senators terming as wasteful, the alleged proposal by the Executive Branch allotting such amount for food distribution cost.
However the global humanitarian body explains that US$25 million comes directly from the Government of Liberia and US$5 million from the World Bank, detailing that it understands that the Government here has transferred the amount to WFP’s account.
According to WFP, the transfer is done as per the signed Memorandum of Understanding between the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP). WFP indicates that around six percent of the budget goes towards meeting essential minimum costs for WFP to deliver its lifesaving assistance, noting that 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),” WFP continues. Together, WFP says these can be referred to as the administrative costs, detailing that 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.
Additionally, WFP says the portion of the budget that constitutes the costs of storing, transporting, and delivering the assistance (or operational costs) is estimated at US$7.8 million.
It says these costs include in-country transport cost, costs for cooperating partners supporting the program, food safety and quality control, casual labour services, and household enumeration/registration, among others.
The world body discloses that the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo – Information Services (LISGIS’) enumeration exercise will cover over 500,000 households at less than US$ 3.4 per household.
Further, WFP says 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.WFP states that LISGIS data will be the primary basis for beneficiary selection, particularly for community-based distributions.
Based on various criteria agreed among stakeholders for which data is being collected through the LISGIS enumeration, WFP says the most vulnerable households will be determined and selected to ensure the program reaches around 2.5 million people, including the first responders and vulnerable groups.
It says the program 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, adding that tTransportation and distribution will cost approximately US$3.60 per person and are covered under the WFP budget.
WFP continues that the COHSFP has established a Finance and Budget Committee chaired by the World Bank that approves expenditures, noting that WFP will provide a financial report on expenditures accrued for the implementation of the COHFSP to the government through the Steering Committee.
WFP Representative and Country Director, Ms. Karla Hershey, says: “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.”
WFP notes that it 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 says it commenced activities in Liberia related to its Purchase for Progress (P4P) pilot initiative, noting that through P4P, it supported smallholder farmers to increase their production and productivity.
It notes that it 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 program which procured much of the rice for its Girls Take-Home Ration (GTHR) program over the years. Under the COHFSP, WFP says its longstanding commitment to local producers remains unchanged.
Despite the urgency of implementing the program, it says it is determined to ensure that local producers benefit from the market opportunity this initiative presents, as the food support program is being funded by US$25 million from the Government and another US$5 million from the World Bank.
WFP concludes it 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 program. It says any gap between what is needed and what can be supplied from locally produced commodities will be met from imported stocks available locally, saying all beans will be procured locally.
By Winston W. Parley