Sh10m fine for theft of disaster funds

You risk a Sh10 million fine or a jail term not exceeding 10 years or both if you steal resources meant for disaster victims. The National Disaster Risk Management Bill 2023, currently before the National Assembly, seeks to coordinate disaster risk management activities both at the national and county levels of government. The Bill also proposes punitive measures against those who raise false alarm or claims for the purpose of self-profiteering.

“A person who, being entrusted with any money or materials or being in custody of money or goods meant for relief during disaster, misappropriates, appropriates for own use, compels another person to misappropriate the money or goods, commits an offence,” reads the Bill.

The Bill states that a person who commits such an offence “is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Sh10 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or both”. The Bill seeks to promote effective and timely responses “to any disaster or risk of disaster and to prevent the adverse effects of a disaster, recover as far as may be possible the livelihood of communities affected by a disaster”.

The Bill proposes to establish the Intergovernmental Council on Disaster Risk Management (IGCDRM) and the National Disaster Risk Management Authority (NDRMA) to provide for coordination of disaster risk management issues at the national and county levels.

Overseen by a board, IGCDRM will be the apex body while NDRMA shall act as the national coordination body “on matters of disaster risk management” and shall draw its funding from monies appropriated by the National Assembly, Appropriation-in-Aid and funds donated by donors.

“Nothing shall render any such person liable to any penalty under this Act if that person proves that the offence was committed without the person’s knowledge or that the person exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence.”

Reports from the Office of the Auditor-General have put governors and officers from the national government agencies on the spot over numerous cases of misappropriation of funds meant for disaster victims . The proposed legal framework clarifies roles, responsibilities and coordination mechanisms for disaster risk management across sectors as well as between the national and county governments.

The proposed law seeks to create County Disaster Risk Management Committees in each of the 47 counties. To ensure effective coordination, the Bill plans to bring together the staff of the National Disaster Operations Centre (NDOC) and the National Disaster Risk Management Unit (NDRMU) to undertake national disaster risk management activities.

Also not spared by the Bill is a person obstructing an officer or employee of the authority, a county committee, county disaster risk management centre from discharging their duties or refuses to comply with instructions. The Bill states that such a person is liable to a fine not exceeding Sh2 million or jail term of up to two years or both.

The Bill also makes it a crime and imposes punitive penalties to individuals who make a false claim for the purpose of soliciting for any help. “A person who knowingly makes a false claim for the purpose of obtaining any relief, assistance, repair, reconstruction or other benefit from the authority commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Sh1 million or to imprisonment to a term not exceeding one year or both,” the Bill proposes.

The same penalty also applies to a person who makes or circulates a false alarm knowingly or warning as to a disaster or its severity or magnitude leading to panic.

The Bill comes against a backdrop of damning revelations by Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu over the country’s preparedness in dealing with disasters like the recent floods . In her performance audit on the response by government to the floods of March 2023, Ms Gathungu noted lack of clear disaster response legal framework and policies may have aggravated the flooding situation leading to loss of lives.

The audit covered a period of five years from July 2017 to June 2022 and sampled flood-prone counties — Baringo, Kisumu, Narok, Busia, Tana River and Garissa — where 76 people lost their lives. It noted that despite floods being cyclical and occurring annually, there was no specific budget line for food response from the State Department for Internal Security and Directorate of Special Programmes. The two agencies are responsible for the management of disasters but are bogged down by lack of coordination.

The Internal Security department is responsible for early warning information and coordination responses, which is managed through the National Disaster Operations Centre (NDOC) and National Government Administration Officers (Ngao). The Directorate of Special Programmes, domiciled in the State Department for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (Asals) and Regional Development, is responsible for humanitarian relief and rehabilitation of victims.

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