The State Audit Office has conducted an audit to assess how the civil protection and disaster management system improved in 2016 works. Unfortunately, the audit conclusions are negative because the civil protection and disaster management system is largely a neglected area and, in general, the civil protection system does not have the prerequisites for effective disaster management and crisis management. Improvements are necessary and possible in the entire system to prepare better for crises, prevent them as much as possible and overcome efficiently by generally reducing the negative impact of disasters on both human health and life, as well as national economy.
- It is important to determine a clear division of responsibility of the institutions involved in disaster management and to create such an institutional model of disaster management that would be suitable for various levels of disaster management. At present, a system has largely been created in which many participate but no one is responsible.
- The COVID-19 pandemic showed the weaknesses of Latvia’s disaster management system. Throughout the pandemic, the search for the most appropriate institutional model for crisis management continued. It is necessary to draw conclusions and make relevant system improvements.
- The approach to draft state and municipal civil protection plans should be reviewed so that they are useful in disaster management.
- A system should be established to ensure regular civil protection training and involve the participation of all stakeholders. No civil protection plan will help in a crisis if it is not first tested in training.
- The public must be involved in risk assessment and disaster management measures by strengthening public resilience and involvement in crisis management.
- At least in the last four years, no funding has been allocated for the formation of state material reserves, thus they have not been created in the expected volume.
“Since we conducted the audit on the planning and readiness of the national civil protection system at a time when the global agenda was largely determined by the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the end of the audit, Russia started a war in Ukraine, we paid increased attention to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as assessed the performance of civil protection system by institutions within the framework of preventive and preparedness measures provided for in the plans in case of war and military threat. It made it possible to ascertain whether and to what extent the created disaster management system was suitable for disaster situations, how it provided prevention, preparedness, response and elimination of consequences, which issues could and should have been thought about before the crisis situation and which aspects of the crisis could not be planned and a solution could only be found when a threat situation occurred,” indicated Ms Kristīne Jaunzeme, Member of the Council of the State Audit Office.
One of the first things to be done is to improve the institutional model of disaster management, so that there is a clear division of responsibility of the institutions involved in disaster management, the institutions have the necessary resources and capacity, and solutions are provided for the management of comprehensive disasters affecting the entire country and many sectors. The existing disaster management model does not consider the options of its implementation either legally or practically. To a considerable extent, a system has been created in which many participate but no one is responsible.
In Latvia, the civil protection system has been deconcentrated and decentralized since 2016 with ministries or local or regional governments determined responsible for coordinating the management of each type of disaster. For such a deconcentrated and decentralized system to be effective, a unified methodology, a clear division of mandate and mutually coordinated actions of all involved parties are required. The management of the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the weaknesses and necessary improvements of the Latvian disaster management system brightly. Namely, although the Ministry of Health is the subject of disaster management provided for in the Law on Civil Protection and Disaster Management, which must ensure the coordination of pandemic disaster management, the Ministry of Health does not have the authority to ensure the involvement of other ministries and how to achieve mutually coordinated action to limit the spread of the pandemic. “To compensate for the shortcomings of the existing institutional model of disaster management, it was largely replaced by various ad hoc institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The search for the most appropriate pandemic management model continued throughout the pandemic. For the most part, those involved in ad hoc institutions and their leaders were not previously trained and prepared for disaster management in crises, therefore the way of thinking and working methods necessary for managing a crisis had to be learned quickly and during a crisis, often lacking resources and capacity,” explained K. Jaunzeme.
Thus, the State Audit Office calls both to assess the division of responsibilities of the institutions involved in disaster management, the overlap of mandate and their implementation possibilities, by making relevant amendments to laws and regulations and to go a step further. The State Audit Office calls for evaluating the opportunities of creating a high-level institution for the coordination, development planning and monitoring of deconcentrated and decentralized disaster management systems so that the disaster management system established in Latvia could function effectively. Such an institution could act as a centre of competence in civil protection and crisis management, including providing support to the government, ministries and local and regional governments in disaster management and coordinating disaster management affecting the entire country and many sectors as needed, by establishing permanent mechanisms for organizing political level working groups, involving experts and scientists in crisis management, take care of disaster management training and the development of the civil protection system in general, inform the community about civil protection and involve the community in risk assessment and development of civil protection plans, etc. Similar coordinating bodies operate, for example, in the United Kingdom, Sweden and Estonia.
The approach to drafting national and municipal civil protection plans should be reviewed. Civil protection plans should provide a comprehensive set of measures for disaster management. It is important that the measures provided for in the plans contribute to disaster prevention and mitigation, help prepare and be useful in the event of a disaster. The audit found that the measures provided for in the plans were often too general, without clarity as to what could be done, in what time frame and by what means. Instead of ideas and directions of action, civil protection plans need to include real and concrete measures, which must be implemented by the responsible institutions within a certain period by providing appropriate funding.
Considering the rapidly changing geopolitical situation and current security challenges, the State Audit Office collected information in the audit on how the preventive and preparedness measures provided for in the national civil protection plan were fulfilled in case of war, military invasion or threats thereof, as well as the preventive measures provided for in the plan of measures for the controlled mass evacuation of the population. It has been established that from 15 preventive and preparedness measures provided for in the National Civil Protection Plan, related to ensuring the supply of food, essential goods and energy resources, protection of cultural heritage, ensuring the ability to manage uncontrolled movement of people, and other issues, 4 measures have been implemented, implementation of 4 measures has started and is ongoing, but 7 measures have not been implemented. The legal framework does not specify which institution should monitor the implementation of these measures and which institution should assess whether the provided measures are sufficient and appropriate for responding to potential threats. K.Jaunzeme also has indicated that no effective monitoring mechanisms have been established for the evaluation and monitoring of the execution of national and municipal civil protection plans, as the Ministry of the Interior only collects the information provided by line ministries on the implementation of the National Civil Protection Plan, regardless of the completeness of the information, and does not analyse the progress of the implementation of the plan, impeding conditions, the capacity of institutions, the necessary improvements, etc.
Civil protection plans will not be of much use in a crisis without exercises that assess the appropriateness of measures in civil protection plans. Civil protection exercises are necessary to check the appropriateness of established measures, the adequacy of resources and cooperation mechanisms regularly. Staff skills and readiness for crisis situations are trained during exercise. The audit has established that the national-level civil protection exercises were last held in 2016. The organization of exercise is left to the discretion of each institution, and the leading institutions of the civil protection system, that is the Ministry of the Interior and the State Fire and Rescue Service, do not have information about what exercises have been implemented and what is planned, nor is there sufficient supervision over the elimination of deficiencies found in exercises. In improving the civil protection training system, it could be useful to learn from examples of good practice in disaster medicine and the Ministry of Defence, as well as the Swedish experience in developing a medium-term civil protection training strategy and training plans covering all stakeholders.
The public is not involved in risk assessment, and useful information about civil protection measures is not available to the public. The audit has found that the responsible ministries in Latvia conduct risk assessments within the framework of each sector and involve other stakeholders only in exceedingly rare cases. The sectoral ministries have not involved local governments in any disaster risk assessment, although local governments can be affected by all the disasters mentioned in the National Civil Protection Plan. Public consultations have not been conducted, and the public has not been informed about the risk assessment process and results, which threatens society’s ability to prepare and participate in disaster management measures, as well as weakens public resilience against various crises in general.
The country’s material reserves have not been funded for a long time. The formation of the country's material reserves has also been neglected. At least in the last four years, funding from the state budget for the provision of state material reserves has not been allocated, although during this period from 6 to 8 million euros. In the opinion of the State Audit Office, the funding necessary for the provision of state material reserves should be in the base funding of civil protection and should not be requested as additional funding in the order of applications for priority measures.
The audited entities (Ministry of the Interior and the State Fire and Rescue Service) have been given 17 recommendations, the timeframe for implementation of which is 31 December 2025. Three proposals related to the improvement of the institutional model of disaster management and crisis management, sectoral hazard plans and funding for the state’s material reserves have been presented to the Prime Minister. After the audit, the State Audit Office will approach the Prime Minister to discuss the audit findings and recommendations.
- On 1 October 2016, the Law on Civil Protection and Disaster Management entered into force in Latvia. Its purpose is to determine the mandate of the civil protection system and disaster management subjects to ensure the safety and protection of people, the environment and property as fully as possible in the event of a disaster or its threat.
- In Latvia, disasters with the highest probability and level of potential consequences of danger are epidemics, windstorms, damage to electrical distribution networks, storms and strong gusts of wind, fires in buildings and structures, epizootics, floods, heat, icing, severe frost, rains and prolonged rains, thunderstorms and hail, whirlwinds, drought.
- Audit report, recommendation implementation schedule, infographic, etc.
About the State Audit Office
The State Audit Office of the Republic of Latvia is an independent, collegial supreme audit institution. The purpose of its activity is to find out whether the actions with the financial means and property of a public entity are legal, correct, useful and in line with public interests, as well as to provide recommendations for the elimination of discovered irregularities. The State Audit Office conducts audits in accordance with International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI) of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI), whose recognition in Latvia is determined by the Auditor General.
100 years of AUDIT STRENGTH
On 16 August 2023, the State Audit Law will turn 100 years old. With the adoption of this Law, the State Audit Office from a formal de facto institution founded on 2 December became a de jure independent, collegial supreme audit institution of the Republic of Latvia. The State Audit Office is one of the independent state institutions enshrined in the Satversme (Constitution) of Latvia. The Constitution was signed by Roberts Ivanovs as the secretary of the Constitutional Assembly, who was then confirmed as the Auditor General. He worked as the first Auditor General for 12 years. His signature confirmed the text of our Constitution alongside that of Jānis Čakste.
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