26 C
City of Banjul
Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Statement from The West Africa Project Officer the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League

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Further to the statement issued by RCEL on 12 August concerning charitable donations to eligible Gambian veterans who served in the British Armed Forces prior to independence and their eligible widow, living in poverty, the following points of clarification are made. This follows inaccurate media coverage that has sought to bring into disrepute the good work being carried out in The Gambia to support some of the most vulnerable members of Gambian society.

The correction to the false allegations made and broadcast by QTV are as follows:
1. It was quoted that some £11 million has been provided for veterans by the British Government. The accurate account is that these funds are for a period of 5 years, April 2019 – March 2024, for 29 Commonwealth countries. The Gambia is just one of the 29 countries. Funds are available to purchase a healthy diet of 2,400 calories per eligible beneficiary on a daily basis for those living in poverty.

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The individual payments from the UK Government Department for International Development are supplemented by charitable donations from RCEL. The grants are neither a pension nor a right. In order to reduce fraudulent claims strict governance and eligibility criteria are in place.

2. Following verification in London, grants have been reaching eligible beneficiaries. Over 60% have been paid but the Programme for payments has been paused until the coronavirus situation in The Gambia improves. The safety of our caseworkers and the veterans and widows is our priority.

3. It was claimed that some individuals not closely related to veterans are benefitting. This is untrue. All eligible beneficiaries, either a veteran or one widow, have completed a rigorous assessment to ensure they meet eligibility criteria. Dependents or other relatives of the veteran are not eligible to apply and any claim could be considered fraudulent.

4. Inaccurate and potentially libellous accusations against Pa Faal have been made. It is unlawful to wrongly accuse an individual of something that is untrue. RCEL has previously explained to the families of veterans that only eligible veterans and the first widows who are living in poverty receive grants. Family relatives are not eligible and any attempt to apply for funding is fraudulent. A public apology should be made to Pa Faal.

5. It was quoted that there is no office for veterans or widows to visit. This is correct. The office of The Gambia Legion was previously located in the Ministry of Defence Headquarters until President Jammeh ordered them to vacate the premises. They have not yet been allowed to return. The system has adapted to meet current circumstances and as veterans and widows become more aged and infirm home visits are made. 52 beneficiaries have been visited by RCEL caseworkers this year before coronavirus made it unsafe to do so. Once it is safe to resume visits the remaining payments will be made. The safety of our caseworkers, veterans and widows is our priority.

6. Ousman Jallowa Public Relations Officer stated there had been a lack of transparency and many were unaware of the support available to eligible beneficiaries. This is inaccurate as RCEL caseworkers went to great lengths to publicise the programme. Radio advertisements were broadcast in 2019 at the beginning of the Programme. Many reacted and made contact with The Gambia Legion. Those who met the eligibility criteria were processed by Pa Faal to London for confirmation. Many new beneficiaries, who heard the radio advertisements are now in receipt of grants.

7. The British High Commission has been quoted. The British High Commission is independent of the Programme but has been assisting RCEL for decades when asked to do so. The RCEL is grateful for the assistance.

8. It was stated that a widow was asked to sign a form and then did not receive her grant. Signing a form is a part of the verification process which requires proof of life. Once the caseworker has the form signed it is processed to London for verification. Thereafter the grant is paid if the widow is eligible. An application is not a guarantee of a grant being awarded.

9. Further radio announcements were made. Currently the payments have been halted due to coronavirus. Once it is safe to resume visits the remaining payments will be made. The safety of our caseworkers, veterans and widows is our priority.

10. A veteran who took part in the media broadcast claimed not to have been paid is speaking an untruth. He has been identified by RCEL staff and has received, in recent years, 3 payments. It is hoped that those making the unfounded allegations are not taking advantage of vulnerable people.

As a general point, RCEL is at pains to be open and transparent. The Gambia Legion and caseworkers assist with verification and distribution of grants. Significant governance procedures are in place to ensure that only eligible beneficiaries, verified by London, receive UK charitable donations.

Close relatives and dependants are not eligible. Only an eligible veteran or following his death, one eligible widow may apply for a grant. If this eligible widow then dies no further grants are awarded to other widows. Children are not eligible to apply.

The grant is a charitable donation and is neither a right nor a pension. It is clear that some groups or individuals are unaware and have not attempted to clarify these governance procedures. This may suit them but it will not deter RCEL from ensuring the highest standards are achieved in order to ensure those fraudulently attempting to make a claim are not successful.

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