The State Audit Office has drafted a situation study report, “Provision of resources necessary for curbing the spread of Covid-19 in state and municipal institutions”. This study identified the challenges faced by state and municipal institutions in organising the centralised supply of personal protective equipment, the lessons learned from it, and the recommended course of action in the future, including the establishment of national material reserves, whose deficit pronounced particularly during the emergency. To draw the government’s attention to the findings that one should take into account when implementing Covid-19 curbing measures or in the context of similar events in the future, the State Audit Office sent a letter to Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš regarding the findings and recommendations of the situation study report.
After this situation study, which also included international experience, the State Audit Office acknowledges that the Covid-19 pandemic was a real test for all countries. The lack of knowledge and data on Covid-19, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, and the extent and speed at which one should have responded to the pandemic, was a challenge for all governments and institutions. Countries that have been relatively successful in curbing the spread of Covid-19 have recognised that a clear division of responsibilities and successful coordination among public administration bodies of different levels are prerequisites for rapid and targeted action, which is critical to curbing the Covid-19 pandemic.
The survey of the line ministries and municipal cooperation territories shows that the problems in curbing the spread of Covid-19 occurred due to a decentralised approach when each local or regional government and each institution was responsible for the measures.
Purposeful action of state institutions is required in both setting requirements and coordinating the execution of the adopted decisions
The central institution’s role (government) is significant in managing the Covid-19 crisis because common and centralised solutions are more effective in curbing the pandemic. Establishing a command centre for policy-making, decision-making, and high-level supervision is not enough for government centres to successfully coordinate the measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. The practical support and operational coordination in monitoring action plans and the achievement of their objectives are equally important.
In the early stages of the crisis, one needed swift action. Still, the institutions had difficulty overseeing the range of goods that were not normally on the agenda of non-health authorities and local and regional governments. There was a lack of common information and clear guidance on what resources one needed. There were no centrally developed guidelines, recommendations, or algorithms at the national level. Although nobody allowed critical situations, the implementation of epidemiological safety measures placed a significant additional burden on the institutions not competent in public health safety matters. Centralised support to non-healthcare institutions in providing the resources needed for epidemiological safety could have taken place earlier and to a greater extent. Procuring was difficult for each institution individually. The institutions competed with each other in the context of shortages on the market and rapid increases in commodity prices. There were also unclear issues regarding the shelf life and storage of goods, the application of public procurement rules, etc. Things would be easier if each local and regional government and each institution did not have to go into the specific nature of the epidemiological situation individually.
After the end of the first emergency, there were no problems with the provision of personal protective equipment for day-to-day needs. Still, uncertainty remained about the amount of reserves required. The different understanding of what the laws and regulations required hindered the planning of a sufficient amount of reserves in time, that is, what resources and for how long one needed. The authorities were not clear about the meaning of the terms defined in the legislation, such as ‘institutions involved’, ‘supply coordinator’, and ‘list of priority institutions and needs’.
From the point of view of the State Audit Office, the Covid-19 crisis has shown that taking central care of all other essential service providers in the country in addition to the healthcare system by planning and modelling data for those institutions is of equal importance. The precondition for this is up-to-date information on the availability of personal protective equipment at the specific moment - how many reserves are at the disposal of institutions, as well as a previously developed forecasting system for demand in critical conditions.
One must encourage coordinated action and coordination among central government and local and regional governments and their cooperation to prevent an “every man for himself” reaction.
The survey findings of municipal cooperation territories indicate the possibilities to improve the cooperation between state institutions and municipal institutions. During the study, the State Audit Office tried to determine whether local and regional governments cooperated with state social care centres, state educational institutions, state medical institutions, and other institutions in their territory in the planning and purchase of personal protective equipment disinfectants. The findings show that the approach of local and regional governments differed. Most of the surveyed local and regional governments do not cooperate with state institutions located in their territory, for example, the Ministry of Welfare coordinates the supply of state social care centres with personal protective equipment and disinfectants. However, there are other types of cooperation experience, for instance, the local or regional government takes care (summarises needs, takes an interest in, etc.) of the institutions in its territory even if they are state institutions.
During the situation study, the State Audit Office clarified the opinion of state institutions outside the health sector (ministries and their subordinate institutions and municipal cooperation territories) on how the availability of protective equipment necessary for epidemiological safety was ensured from 1 March to 30 November last year. The report also draws attention to recent findings in documents from the World Bank and other international organisations that one must consider in the future when implementing Covid-19 curbing measures or similar events in coordinating the provision of the necessary resources.