Times of Eswatini
Govt too slow in relief efforts – MPs
MBABANE – Some Members of Parliament (MPs) have raised concerns about government’s turnaround time when responding to emergencies.
The concern emanates from what the MPs said was delayed response by the Executive in restoring services interrupted during the days of the flash floods. The concerned MPs want services to be decentralised to short circuit the delays.
Last Wednesday, the country experienced torrential rains that lasted until yesterday morning. According to the Eswatini Meteorological Services, the rains were caused by an upper trough that was passing through the country.
Some people, more especially those with stick and mud houses, in rural areas, were affected by the rains and floods. The houses collapsed and left families without shelter and food, while some areas were inaccessible due to slippery roads. In some areas, as the houses collapsed, groceries were drenched and spoilt.
According to the aggrieved MPs, they were the first people to be contacted by residents during the catastrophic weekend. The MPs said this led to them using their personal monies to rescue the families in distress.
The MPs said some of the roads in their areas were not accessible, which made it difficult for people who were not familiar with the place to navigate. They said they started receiving calls on Thursday about collapsed structures, as some of these residents required urgent help in the form of food and temporary shelter.
The legislators noted a lack of follow-up in the construction of permanent structures for some of the affected residents. The MPs were of the view that there was need for the decentralisation of the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).
According to the MP, the current turnaround time between the reporting and actual arrival of assistance was lengthy. Some of the legislators mentioned that the NDMA had trained volunteers and data collectors in their communities. They, however, stated that those field officers only collected data and would have to wait for the response for over 72 hours, at most.
One of the legislators who highlighted the need to decentralise the services was Gege MP Musa Kunene. He mentioned that government tried to decentralise the NDMA offices but there were issues with operations. He stated that his constituency no longer travelled to Matsapha to report about disasters that occurred in the areas. “We have an office at Shiselweni that has agents, but what I have discovered is that they are not effective,” he said.
Kunene said the agents do not have responding items at their disposal. He stressed the need to disperse some of the needed items like tents and food which are urgently needed during natural disasters.
He suggested that the storerooms at Tinkhundla centres, more especially those that have service centres, should be supplied with emergency items such as food and tents, ready to assist during emergencies. He recalled that he once raised a similar point during NDMA’s appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) but the team was defensive.
Kunene said he was told that his suggestion might lead to a mismanagement of the food items and blankets, among others. He explained that there would be clear accountability through the officers who would have assessed the situation since the issue was turnaround time. “At the moment people wait forever to get assistance,” he said.
Another MP that echoed Kunene was Gilgal MP Kenneth Fakudze. He said the issue of decentralisation of these services had been raised several times, without being taken seriously.
Fakudze said whenever they raised the issue of decentralising the services, there was a perception that they wanted to use the food items and clothing for campaigning. This is despite the fact that the Election Boundaries Commission (EBC) had specific periods and rules for campaigning. The MP also observed that there were instances where they reported disastrous incidents such as fire incidents and collapsed houses but the agency did not reply.
Fakudze said because there was a notion that they were accused of using the items to campaign for re-election, the alternative was to store them at regional NDMA offices. He mentioned that the agency had an office in Siteki that serviced the entire Lubombo Region. The MP said the office did not have the capacity to service the entire region, hence he called for the formation of regional offices.
Fakudze said MPs should not have control of the items in the sub regional offices or Tinkhundla centres because they could easily be manipulated by the people, something that may lead to the response items being given to undeserving people. Further, Fakudze said the delay in the services led to them forking money from their own pockets to assist the needy in his constituency, by building houses and buying food for them during emergencies.
Meanwhile, Mkhiweni MP Michael Masuku also stated that in this past week he saw the need for the NDMA services to be decentralised. Masuku said on Thursday and Friday he started receiving reports of collapsed houses, which left people without shelter in his constituency. Masuku said, when people report the incidents to an MP they expect assistance urgently. He said they reported to NDMA but had not received a response, even by Saturday. He shared that he had to make a plan for the affected people to find shelter and food. Masuku said so desperate was the situation that he eventually used his own money to provide food and shelter. Adding to that, he said there were a number of people in his constituency who needed shelter. One of them had been promised shelter by the NDMA. “The agency delivered sand and then disappeared,” he said.
On Friday, an elderly woman’s house collapsed. Masuku said there should be an exception for MPs when it came to decentralising some of the services. He said the agency should give MPs some of the items so that they could easily distribute them to the needy. He highlighted that the MPs knew the people and how to reach them and would be able to reach out to them even when roads were inaccessible. He mentioned that he was aware that not all legislators had the capability to keep the relief items with them, but those who had the means should be utilised.