Republic of Marshall Islands

International Disaster Response Law in the Pacific

Overview

Legal Preparedness for International Assistance Assessment

1. Does RMI have a clear legal framework for disaster risk management which includes procedures relating to international disaster assistance?
The legal framework for disaster risk management within the Republic of the Marshall Islands is spread across a number of legal and policy documents. The development of the National Disaster Risk Management Arrangements 2017 is an attempt to streamline disaster risk management within RMI through the one harmonising instrument. Despite the unconventional array of documents (as opposed to a primary Act supported by a plan), there are a number of clear provisions with regard international disaster assistance, for example international disaster assistance may not be requested until there has been a state of emergency or a state of disaster declared by Cabinet. A state of disaster will expire after 30 days if not renewed by Cabinet, and a state of emergency will expire after ten days if not renewed. In addition, the Nitijela may also terminate a state of emergency. A request for international assistance will only be made when it is clear that the situation is outside of RMI’s capability. The Central Control Group (CCG), within the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is to make this determination.
2. Do RMI’s laws and regulations clearly set out a focal point for coordinating international disaster assistance?
The National Disaster Management Committee (NDMC) is responsible for the coordination of disaster assessment and relief operations including the recommendation to Cabinet on the need for external relief assistance. The EOC is located in the Chief Secretary’s Conference Room. The Chief Secretary, with the assistance of a CCG, will have responsibility for the coordination of resources in response to a hazard impact or major emergency situation. The EOC provides for the overall command, control and coordination of response to a national disaster; it coordinates all government, non-government, private, regional and donor assistance, and it manages the logistic arrangements of the immediate relief supplies.

 

The Central Control Group (CCG) is responsible for liaising directly with international aid agencies and donors after the formal request has been made, to determine the type, quantity and distribution of assistance required. All departments that require aid must submit their request to the CCG. They must not directly contact the aid agencies and donors. The CCG is accountable to aid agencies/donors for ensuring that all relief assistance is distributed in accordance with guidelines governing the provision of the assistance, and for the preparation of a report on expenditure/ distribution of assistance provided.

 

Under the 1997 Plan, the CCG is to handle international assistance matters and have different discussions with different agencies. In practice, it is possible that the same letter of request would go at the same time to multiple partners. Additionally, in smaller scale events, assistance has been channelled directly to the ministries in the past (despite government’s insistence that requests go through CSO and NDMO).
3. Do RMI’s laws and regulations outline the roles and responsibilities of different institutions relating to international disaster assistance?
The Chief Secretary is responsible to Cabinet for ensuring that adequate disaster management measures exist at all times.201 The Chief Secretary holds the position of Disaster Controller, who has overall disaster management responsibility. The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) is tasked with providing assistance and advice to departments, NGOs, and private industry on disaster management matters, developing and maintaining an EOC, and providing a focal point for regional disaster management activities. The NDMO is responsible to the NDC for monitoring the requirement for disaster relief during the recovery period. It is essential that once the initial relief operations have been completed the continuity of relief efforts must be maintained with regular reporting to the NDC.

 

The National Disaster Management Committee is primarily responsible for the provision of technical advice and resource support in facilitation of DRM. It is the lead agency for implementing the NDMP 1997 and the HMP 2005, and is directly accountable to Cabinet. The Disaster Assistance Act 1987 sets out the composition of the NDMC and their major functions which include coordination of disaster assessments and relief operations including recommendations on the need for external relief assistance.

 

The Joint National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaption and Disaster Risk Management (JNAP) sets out the role of the Red Cross in disaster as an additional link to communities, and once fully established, it will be an effective supporting organisation for JNAP implementation and feedback on JNAP monitoring and evaluation.
4. Do RMI’s laws and regulations outline a process for requesting/welcoming offers of international disaster assistance, and for terminating international assistance?
RMI may request that the United States President declare a state of emergency for it. If this happens, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and USAID shall jointly assess the damage caused by the disaster and prepare a reconstruction plan including an estimate of the total amount of Federal resources needed. RMI is also able to request disaster assistance from USAID in a declared state of emergency after utilising the national Disaster Assistance Emergency Fund, and requesting international assistance through the United Nations.

 

In terms of the aid that is available from the United States, this is covered by the Compact of Free Association (CFA) agreement. This was established in 1986, and provides the Marshall Islands with economic assistance worth around $45 million (USD) a year until the agreement expires in 2023. The use of the funds must be related to the specific areas detailed in the agreement. This agreement was amended in 2004 to include guidance on establishing the Disaster Assistance Emergency Fund and for accessing additional post disaster support from USAID. This additional finance is available once the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands officially declares a national state of emergency in accordance with the laws of the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. This requires that the disaster is deemed to be beyond the ability of the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to respond (including taking into account the available resources of the Disaster Assistance Emergency Fund and the need to protect the sustainability of the Fund) or the Government of the
Republic of the Marshall Islands has requested assistance through the United Nations designated representative for the coordination of disaster and humanitarian assistance.

 

The Disaster Controller also has the authority to call for international assistance to support the response or relief efforts based on assessment reports received. Requests to specific countries are then made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
5. Do RMI’s laws and regulations provide for necessary legal facilities to be provided to international assisting actors?
In terms of immigration, emergency staff arriving from foreign countries will require immigration clearance. Assuming that partners operate through formal channels, the Chief Secretary’s Office will liaise with the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Immigration to ensure any necessary exemptions/entry requirements for essential staff are observed. Regarding customs, once there is a request submitted for international assistance, directors of customs and quarantine are to make necessary arrangements for the ongoing clearance of all donors’ assistance which are provided for disaster relief purposes. The Secretary of Finance, Banking and Postal Services is to consider approval of duty exemption for goods, which are purchased locally for the purpose of emergency relief requirement. The approval of duty exemption will only be considered following a letter of request from the Chair of the NDC. In addition, the Ministry of Finance plays a leading role in facilitating disaster response efforts. The Ministry waives normal tendering procedures upon receipt of the statement of emergency. This is commonly accepted but not formally documented.

 

Wide powers are given to Cabinet in time of disaster, including to “give due recognition to the license, certificate or other permit issued by any government evidencing that a person has met qualifications for professional, mechanical or other skills, and such persons may render aid involving that skill to meet a disaster”. The Act also sets out that an executive order or proclamation of state of disaster shall empower the disaster response and recovery aspects of the disaster plans applicable to the political subdivision or area in question, and authorise the deployment and use of any forces to which the plan or plans apply, and the use or distribution of any supplies, equipment, and materials and facilities assembled, stockpiled, or arranged to be made available pursuant to this Chapter or to any other provision of law relating to disasters.
6. Do RMI’s laws and regulations set out quality standards for international assisting actors?
The Disaster Assistance Act 1987 states that the Disaster Committee has wide discretion to do “such other things as may be necessary, incidental or appropriate for the implementation of this chapter”, and the Emergencies Act 1979 also grants wide ranging powers to Cabinet during a state of emergency to “promulgate whatever orders are necessary to assure the safety of life, health and property of the community”. Aside from these provisions, it is not apparent whether there are any provisions setting out minimum quality standards for international actors and the goods/services they provide.
7. Do RMI’s laws and regulations set out eligibility requirements for international assisting actors to receive legal facilities?
The receipt of legal facilities for international actors is not specified in RMI’s disaster risk management regulatory framework and is largely based on the discretion of the relevant Minister.
8. Do RMI’s laws and regulations establish a specialised unit for expediting the entry of international disaster assistance?
The National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) has the responsibility to coordinate all government, non-government, private, regional and donor assistance; and manage the logistic arrangements of relief supplies. Aside from these provisions, there appear to be no current laws or regulations establishing eligibility requirements for international actors wanting to receive legal facilities.
9. Do RMI’s laws and regulations provide adequate transparency, safeguards and accountability mechanisms governing international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance?
There are various provisions throughout the legislation and policy documents relating to the Disaster Assistance Fund. The RMI Disaster Management Reference Handbook 2016 (DRMH) states that the Chief Secretary is responsible for the management of all funds provided for disaster relief purposes, and prior authorisation for expenditure of such funds must be received. Additionally, the Disaster Controller will be accountable to all aid agencies/donors for ensuring that all relief assistance is distributed in accordance with guidelines governing the provision of such assistance and for the preparation of a report on the expenditures and distribution of assistance provided by each agency.

 

The National Action Plan for DRM states that the Ministry of Finance is to accept and process departmental activities on disaster expenditure; prepare to implement the necessary accounting procedures for USAID assistance; and maintain detailed records of disaster expenditures employing the same procedures as are required for USAID assistance. The Plan also sets out specific funds available to the Republic of Marshall Islands in times of disaster/emergency.

 

The Disaster Assistance Act 1987 establishes a specific Disaster Assistance Account within the National Treasury and under the control and supervision of the Ministry of Finance. Subject to this control, the contents of the account shall be made available and paid out by the Chief Secretary in consultation with the committee for the purposes set out in Act.
10. Do RMI’s laws and regulations outline procedures for international disaster assistance sent from and transiting through the Marshall Islands?
There are currently no apparent provisions within RMI’s disaster risk management framework relating to international disaster assistance being sent from or transiting through RMI.

Laws, policies, plans and other resources