Since 2015, Europe has struggled with a huge influx of refugees from different parts of the world. Armed conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine as well as natural disasters, for instance in Africa, resulted in famine and a significant worsening of living conditions of people inhabiting those areas. According to the data of 2017, about 141 million people in 37 countries needed humanitarian aid. The issue of direct humanitarian aid in countries affected by the civil war in Syria became one of the priorities of the Polish government and was an important reason why the humanitarian aid expenditures from the Polish state budget were raised considerably. In January 2018, the President of the Council of Ministers entrusted the Minister - a Member of the Council of Ministers with humanitarian aid tasks, such as analysing needs and recommending directions of humanitarian aid measures.

Humanitarian aid expenditures from the state budget from 2015 to 2018. 2015: PLN 26 million; 2016: PLN 124 million; 2017: PLN 173 million; 2018: PLN 135 million. Source: NIK’s own analysis based on the data from the government publication: ”The aspects of humanitarian and development aid from 2015 to 2018”.

Humanitarian aid covered both payments from international organisations and specialised entities helping in the regions of humanitarian crises and the implementation of a great number of direct aid projects outside Poland by Polish diplomatic posts and Polish NGOs. Those funds were earmarked for tasks to save lives as well as to improve the safety and living conditions of people inhabiting regions covered by humanitarian crises.

An increase of expenditures for humanitarian aid and the fact that the tasks were performed outside Poland entailed two risks: weakening supervision and allocating public funds for purposes not directly related to humanitarian aid. So the question about adequacy and effectiveness of actions was justified.

World regions covered by the Polish humanitarian aid: Ukraine, Lesbos and Samos islands in Greece (aid to refugees), Lebanon, Jordan, Cameroon, Mid-African Republic, Syria, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Uganda. Source: NIK’s own analysis

The NIK audit covered the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and five non-government organisations providing humanitarian aid outside Poland: Caritas, the Father Werenfried Foundation, the Polish Humanitarian Action Foundation, the ”Polish Centre for International Aid” Foundation and the "Club of Catholic Intelligentsia" Association. The audit covered the years 2017-2019.

Key audit findings

From 2018 to 2019, there was no consistent system of humanitarian aid at the government level in Poland. In line with the effective law, the leading role in terms of providing humanitarian aid by Poland is played by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. However, in December 2017, the President of the Council of Ministers assigned the humanitarian aid tasks to the Minister - a Member of the Council of Ministers (further: Humanitarian Aid Minister). The reasons included a rise in humanitarian needs and the growing migration pressure worldwide, also in the context of the ongoing debate about the forced relocation of refugees. The Humanitarian Aid Minister was supported by the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers. She performed her duties until 14 November 2019.

Therefore, two separate bodies were dealing with humanitarian aid, and their competencies partly overlapped. The Minister of Foreign Affairs could not monitor the implementation of humanitarian aid tasks by the Chancellery because he was not updated about the subsidised tasks that the Chancellery commissioned to NGOs. The Chancellery Head, despite his/her legal obligation, did not agree with the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the assumptions of spending funds on humanitarian aid. NIK has stated that due to the absence of such arrangements the Minister of Foreign Affairs could not coordinate the entire humanitarian aid financed from the state budget. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, most humanitarian aid tasks were assigned to a single organisational unit - the Development Cooperation Department. 

In the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers humanitarian aid was handled by two organisational units - the Humanitarian Aid Department which supported the Humanitarian Aid Minister and the Civil Society Department (not subject to that Minister and also handling subsidies not related to humanitarian aid). Responsibilities of the Civil Society Department included: signing contracts for the performance of public tasks, supervision of the contracts and control as well as approval of the settlement of subsidies.

As a result of this distribution of work in the Chancellery, the Humanitarian Aid Minister had little impact on which projects would be selected for implementation. The Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers dealt with humanitarian aid only by subsidising tasks commissioned to NGOs. The Humanitarian Aid Department was liquidated on 20 December 2019.

Part of NGOs pointed to an unclear division of humanitarian aid tasks between the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

NIK positively evaluated measures taken by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who effectively supervised the provision of humanitarian aid. The measures taken by the Minister were compliant with the Polish aid priorities and government policy. The coordination of activities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made sure the humanitarian aid tasks were effectively implemented outside Poland. NIK has underlined adequate organisational and legal background, long-term experience of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the applied model of commissioning aid tasks to NGOs which ensured effective and transparent distribution of public funds. Single procedural irregularities had no impact on the achievement of objectives.

NIK has paid attention to a good practice of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: he made sure the annual development cooperation plans were subject to public consultations, although the law did not impose such a requirement. The consultations make it possible to obtain opinions and recommendations from NGOs. The organisations as entities involved in helping persons affected by humanitarian crises may indicate their needs. They may also recommend specific solutions to help the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in addressing the aid to the needy in the best possible way.

NIK has noted, however, that from 2017 to 2019, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs no measures were taken to develop a concept of streamlining and adopting system solutions for the mechanism of coordinating humanitarian measures as part of the central administration, in line with the long-term development cooperation plan for the years 2016-2020.

Though, from December 2017 to May 2019, the Humanitarian Aid Minister did not meet her statutory obligation to develop the recommended directions of humanitarian aid measures. These recommendations should be the basis of undertakings carried out by the Humanitarian Aid Minister. The project outline appeared in the document ”The summary of the humanitarian aid activity December 2017 - May 2019, describing the activity of the Humanitarian Aid Minister. NIK has stressed that the document was prepared in May 2019, i.e. 1.5 years since the Minister was appointed.

In the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers, meetings with NGOs involved in humanitarian aid and offers submitted by those organisations were the primary sources of knowledge about the humanitarian aid needs. The Humanitarian Aid Minister and employees of the Humanitarian Aid Department also participated in conferences on humanitarian aid and meetings of international organisations concerning development cooperation and humanitarian aid. In performing her tasks the Humanitarian Aid Minister cooperated with other ministers, such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as with the heads of central institutions,  governors, and other public administration bodies and local government authorities. At the same time, NIK has underlined that the cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs resulted mainly from day-to-day needs related to the activities carried out by the Humanitarian Aid Minister. They included among others business trips to places outside Poland where humanitarian projects were undertaken, not the commissioning of humanitarian aid tasks. No principles governing the cooperation of both entities involved in humanitarian aid were agreed upon.

Also, there was no coordination in terms of information and promotion of Polish humanitarian aid. The Minister of Foreign Affairs promoted his activity on the radio, on the Internet, and in publications called ”the Polish aid”. To identify the Polish humanitarian aid activities (also the ones carried out abroad), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs used the graphic sign of the Polish development cooperation called the ”Polish aid”. It was designed in 2008.

Graphic sign ”Polish aid”. Source: Documentation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers, independently of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, carried out its information and promotion activities which focused mainly on the description of undertakings carried out by the Humanitarian Aid Minister, including descriptions in publications, brochures, and photo exhibitions.

Both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Humanitarian Aid Minister in the Chancellery cooperated with the public administration bodies but they operated separately. In line with the Development Cooperation Act, the Chancellery is obliged to provide the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the data on humanitarian aid tasks completed by the Chancellery. NIK established that the data for 2018 were unreliable. The Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers posted a total amount of provided humanitarian aid inflated by nearly PLN 776 thousand.

From 2017 to 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spent nearly PLN 330 million on humanitarian aid and the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers almost PLN 51 million.

Public funds earmarked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers (ChPCM) for humanitarian aid in various forms (2017-2019): PLN 4 million- projects carried out by diplomatic posts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 59.2 - NGOs’ projects subsidised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; 50.8 - NGOs’ projects subsidised by the Chancellery; 266.8 - payments made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for international organisations and humanitarian bodies. TOTAL: 380.8. Source: NIK’s own analysis

NIK did not identify any irregularities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs related to changing the plans of humanitarian aid expenses. In the Chancellery,! irregularities were related to the failure to block the unused funds coming from the general reserve of the state budget (the total of PLN 1.2 million), which NIK found unreliable.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs made voluntary payments for international organisations and specialised humanitarian bodies. Those funds were earmarked among others to help refugees and migrants in the Middle East or to help Lebanon.

NIK positively evaluated measures taken by the Minister of Foreign Affairs related to commissioning public tasks in the field of humanitarian aid to NGOs as well as the supervision of their implementation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with one exception, commissioned tasks in line with the competitive procedure. In the audited period, most competitions were related to the so-called module projects (it means that the projects were to be implemented in 2-years’ time). That allowed the organisations to plan the tasks to be performed in the coming year. According to NIK projects of this type ensure greater financing stability as well as their coherence and continuity. It also makes it possible to carry out more complex undertakings in a perspective longer than several months, which has a positive impact on their efficiency. It is also essential that the expenses made from the subsidy funds could be made even before signing the contract, in the project implementation period from 1 January to 31 December of the year when the contract was signed. NIK did not find any irregularities in the way competitions were organised. Open competitions of offers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs guaranteed efficient and transparent distribution of public funds.

NIK stands in a position that the model for the distribution of humanitarian aid funds applied by the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers did not guarantee a fully transparent allocation of funds. In the Chancellery all contracts were concluded without competitions based on offers placed by NGOs. That was possible as under the effective law the Prime Minister may, if it is essential for the protection of human life or health or due to significant public interest, commission public tasks outside the open competition. Since the Humanitarian Aid Minister failed to specify the objectives and directions of activities and since the Minister had little impact on the selection of projects, the aid was limited to proposals made by NGOs which specified the directions, objectives, and results of the aid in their offers. Information saying that one may apply for public funds was provided mainly during the meetings of the Humanitarian Aid Minister with NGOs. It was not published on the websites of the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers.

While reviewing the offers, the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers, in agreement with NGOs, made changes to the tasks, usually related to the containment of administrative costs of the projects (e.g. bank charges or accounting costs) or reduction in the project value due to its shortened implementation period (which in turn was related to lengthy processing of projects in the Chancellery). In the case of 10 audited tasks, 55 to 148 days passed from the date of receiving the offer to the contract signing date. As a result, the commissioned parties had less time to complete their tasks. In 6 cases the procedure of reviewing offers, providing funds to perform a task, and sign a contract took longer than the time the commissioned parties had to complete their tasks.

In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NIK had no significant reservations about the adequacy of humanitarian aid contracts. The contracts audited by NIK contained all elements defined in the effective provisions of law. The contract provisions guaranteed efficiency, reliability, and quality of the tasks’ performance.

On the other hand, in the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers, only 3 in 10 examined contracts contained all necessary provisions. In one case NIK had reservations about the way of approving a report. Namely, it was approved before a task being part of the project was completed. Besides, not all activities taken in the Chancellery were effectively supervised by the Chancellery Head. In particular, in the case of 8 in 10 examined tasks, subsidies were settled from 17 up to 155 days after the deadline set out in the Public Finance Act. Additionally, in one case the Chancellery, upon the commissioned party’s request, postponed the deadline to submit a report by 16 days (although the deadline could not be postponed by the commissioned party). In one case a report was not properly verified and the commissioned party did not meet its obligation to keep separate accounting records.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs monitored humanitarian projects also in the places of their implementation, whereas the Chancellery did not carry out such activities.

NIK positively evaluated the way humanitarian aid tasks were performed by NGOs. Most of these organisations discharged their obligations defined in the provisions of law, contracts, and internal regulations and spent subsidy funds on a timely basis.

It should be stressed that the irregularities identified by NIK did not prevent any of the audited organisations from meeting their objectives.

The audited NGOs pointed out some key difficulties that influenced the way humanitarian aid was provided:

  • the need to act in war conditions, often threatening the safety of persons participating in the project and having an impact on the task performance;
  • problems with foreign bank transfers;
  • difficulties with finding proper specialists, related to varied social and economic levels of the countries where the aid is provided;
  • requirements of the Public Finance Act related to the use of subsidy funds by the end of the budget year - according to the commissioned party it makes it difficult to implement significant projects related to humanitarian aid and development;
  • in case of tasks subsidised from the Chancellery’s funds - no possibility to finance administrative costs incurred for the project (such as accounting costs, bank charges, personnel costs, costs of office supplies, etc.). According to NGOs particularly the FX transactions generate significant bank charges and are a huge burden for an organisation’s budget.

Some organisations noted an unclear split of duties between the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was mainly related to the establishment of the Humanitarian Aid Department in the Chancellery and the absence of transparent principles of applying for public funds for humanitarian aid tasks.

Types of humanitarian aid provided from 2017 to 2019: Financial aid, Water access, Food purchase, Improvement of hygienic and sanitary conditions, Purchase of farm animals, Improvement of fire safety, Psychological and legal assistance, Medical assistance, Shelter. Source: NIK’s own analysis

Recommendations

Given that humanitarian tasks are implemented in difficult conditions, efficient operation necessitates a single decision-making and coordination centre which has been stipulated in the Development Cooperation Act.

NIK recommends that:

  • the Minister of Foreign Affair should:
  • the Head of the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers should:
  • incorporate assumptions in a new long-term development programme related to streamlining and adopting system solutions for the mechanism of coordinating humanitarian measures as part of the central administration and non-government partners;
  • continue educational measures initiated by the Development Cooperation Department among employees of diplomatic posts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to eliminate irregularities related to humanitarian aid projects and consider taking other measures ensuring proper and legal implementation of these projects;
  • develop, in cooperation with other public administration bodies, a joint communication strategy in terms of information and promotion activities related to the Polish development cooperation, to ensure consistency of activities taken by all institutions involved in the tasks’ implementation.
  • strengthen supervision over the process of reviewing offers, concluding contracts, performing tasks by commissioned parties;  
  • consider limiting the use of outsourcing to NGOs of public tasks related to humanitarian aid, outside the open competition;
  • use the competition procedure in the first place as it provides a more transparent and competitive way of commissioning public tasks;  
  • consider adopting the principles related to subsidising of the administrative costs of commissioned projects.

NIK has also emphasised the need to further specify the provisions of contracts signed by the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers due to subsidising public tasks related to humanitarian aid. According to NIK they were not sufficient for efficient implementation of tasks or effective control and supervision exercised by the Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers.

The Chancellery of the President of the Council of Ministers was the only one in seven audited entities to have objections to NIK’s post-audit statement. The independent Council of NIK dismissed most objections. The Chancellery Head, in response to the post-audit statement, communicated that s/he took measures to implement the post-audit recommendations. The measures aimed among other things to change the model of implementing humanitarian aid tasks and to liquidate the position of the Humanitarian Aid Minister and the Humanitarian Aid Department, to strengthen supervision over the commissioned tasks, and also to implement detailed provisions in contracts for the support of public tasks.

In the case of most audited NGOs, NIK did not make any recommendations as they already completed their projects. However, NIK has addressed some remarks to those entities which were related to compliance with the law and the contract provisions.

 

Article informations

Date of creation:
02 October 2020 17:24
Date of publication:
02 October 2020 17:24
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
23 October 2020 14:15
Last modified by:
Andrzej Gaładyk
On the left: a white female doctor examining a black girl accompanied by her mother and a sibling; on the right: two trucks on a road; in the middle: graphic sign of the Polish aid resembling a smiling face. © Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Adobe Stock

NIK about humanitarian aid provided outside Poland as part of public administration tasks

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