M & E Reports 2020

RCEL HQ staff conduct several Monitoring and Evaluation visits to various commonwealth countries each year
to ensure we meet our FCDO contractual requirements as set out in the AGA.

Tours Controller Compliance Captain Lance Gill 28 January - 10 February 2020

Sadly, little had changed in the political situation of this complex country since the last RCEL visit in 2019. The Kachin and Karen are engaged in a struggle for independence. The Burma Military, or Tatmadaw, have been fighting an insurgency on multiple fronts with particular focus on The Rakhine State (Rohingya) and the Kachin State. RCEL has no beneficiaries in Rakhine. Most are in the Chin and Kachin States with a handful in the Mandalay region and a number in the Rangoon and Karen regions.

Kachin Veterans Committee
The purpose of visit was to complete 2019 grant payments to the Kachin veterans and widows in Myitkyina, northern Burma accompanied by Dr Kareng Bawm Awn of the Kachin Veterans Committee (KVC).

Bawm Awn is a Veterinary Doctor and former co-ordinator for the UN Food Programme in Northern Shan State. He is the grandson of Saw Ja Naw who served with Force 136. The KVC, formed in 2001, arranges the disbursement of grants to those veterans and widows in Kachin State. The KVC operates in Myitkyina, Putao, Bhamo, Hpakant and Mogaung enabling them to effectively extend assistance to eligible veterans and widows throughout the country, although access to some areas is very difficult due to security constraints and the impact of the Monsoon season.

Visit to SCOWP Beneficiaries
Bawm Awn and Controller Compliance visited a number of villages that RCEL staff had not previously visited, Mayan, Gaw Nan and Nanmati. 24 beneficiaries were visited.

In 2015 Controller Compliance visited Ja Lung, widow of Major U Byit Tu who had been involved with the care of veterans and widows in Kachin State and recognised for his efforts by Viscount The Lord Slim. His widow, now 96 years old had worked alongside Dr Gordon Seagrave during WWII. Since 2014 she had been confined to a wheelchair as the result of a fall. Unfortunately, Ja Lung's health had deteriorated, and she was now bedridden with little cognisance of the world around her. She was clearly very well cared for by her sisters, but nevertheless, a very sad situation. She was presented with her grant.

Veteran, Nang Zing Htoi Wa
Kachin Widow
Veteran, Rfn Jangmaw Gam

Veteran Nang Zing Htoi Wa, (above left) is 96 years old. He had just been discharged from hospital after a 3 month treatment period for stomach and heart problems. A Kachin widow (centre) is delighted and grateful to receive her grant. Rfn Jangmaw Gam, (right) 94 years old, served with the Kachin Levies and 2 Kachin Rifles.

Indian Ex-Services League New Delhi

Last visited in October 2016, RCEL did send the first tranche of 2019 SCOWP grants. However, the Government of India Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) banking restrictions currently prevent us from sending further funds.

IESL President Brigadier Kartar Singh and General Secretary Colonel Desh Raj arranged a visit to Rohtak and the Haryana State Ex-Services League to meet with SCOWP widow beneficiaries.
After the speeches, blankets were presented to all 43 widows. There was great appreciation for this gift.

Ex-Services Association Chennai (inc. Bangalore)
ESA Chennai have the same issue as IESL New Delhi with regard to FCRA approval and RCEL were unable to send any funding awarded by SCOWP in 2019. Fortunately, ESA had wisely accumulated investment funds and these are being used to pay the beneficiaries.

Chairman, Captain Bala Singh ensures each beneficiary currently receives a grant. He had arranged for 20 widows, with family members to receive their grants. It was a pleasure to meet with these ladies who showed deep gratitude for the support that is being provided.

Two widows were visited in their homes and a further 12 widows travelled to the ESA office to receive their monthly grants.

Veteran and Widow beneficiaries visited by KVC and Captain Lance Gill
Daw Ying Lawm (right) obtains a thumb print signature from one of our widow beneficiaries upon receipt of her grant

Tours Programme Manager Major David Thompson 3 - 7 March 2020

Sierra Leone was last visited on RCEL's behalf by Maj Gen Adrian Freer in March 2019 and a follow up visit by Derrick Cobbinah, Project Officer West Africa, in November 2019. It was important a further visit took place to ensure the smooth administration of the first tranche of FCDO welfare funds sent to Sierra Leone Ex-Services Association (SLESA) in October 2019 which included grants payable to successful new veteran and widow applicants boosting our beneficiary numbers from 67 to 194.

After covid checks at Lungi International Airport and travel to Freetown by Sea Coach, I was met by Derrick and Sam Sahr, our Honorary Advisor for Sierra Leone, at the Freetown terminal.

Sam Sahr is an ex-British SNCO who served in the RLC for 10 years including service in Germany, Cyprus, Canada (BATUS), Iraq on Op Telic 7 and Afghanistan on Op Herrick 14. Now returned to Sierra Leone, he agreed to be an Honorary Representative for RCEL in Sierra Leone in November 2019. Sam opened the first ever military shop in the country and now supplies uniforms to both the Armed Forces and Police in Sierra Leone.

Accompanied by Derrick Cobbinah and Sam Sahr, the programme got underway with a visit to our Member Organisation, SLESA, at their offices in Cockerill Barracks.

The Secretary General, Lt Col (Ret'd) Fatorma Gottor briefed the RCEL team covering a short history of SLESA and the welfare grant payment tour undertaken during November and December 2019. Apart from checking the successful delivery of welfare grants to beneficiaries and good governance of SLESA, I sought to progress the holding of elections for a new SLESA Committee.

SLESA Elections
Since 2018 SLESA Committee elections, at the direction of the President of Sierra Leone, have been promised but not delivered. Elections are necessary to ensure the fair representation of all Sierra Leone ex-servicemen. It was agreed the elections must go ahead and I would take this up with the Minister of Defence and Deputy Chief of Defence Staff later.

Later I met Minister of Defence, Brig Gen Kellie H Conteh. We discussed the issue of the overdue SLESA elections and the continued issue of factionalism within the committee. The Minister informed me that he had the agreement of the President to dissolve the SLESA Committee and to hold elections. He committed to delivering an apolitical executive given the historical political influence on the SLESA executive driven by whichever party were currently in power. Seeking advice for the conduct of the elections I suggested the model used. for the SLESA 2011 elections would be a good blueprint' to start. However, the announcement of elections has yet to be made.

At my meeting with Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, Maj Gen David Tamba Ocil Taluwa we briefly discussed SLESA and the need to conduct elections, but it was clear that his focus was very much centred on the plight of contemporary veterans and the lack of support for them once they were discharged. The issue of SLESA elections remains 'live' but with little prospect of realisation.

David Thompson and Derrick Cobbinah (Project Officer) with Burma Star Veteran Pte Samuel Sesay

Following these meetings, I met with the British High Commissioner, Simon Mustard and the Assistant Defence Advisor, SSgt John Harper who I briefed on RCEL and the FCDO programme, the significant increase in beneficiaries since last year, history of SLESA, the lack of progress on SLESA elections and our strengthening of beneficiary verification and SLESA governance.

The High Commissioner kindly arranged for me to meet with the in-county Commonwealth War Graves Commission staff, Simon Fletcher, Regional Manager for CWGC and David McDonald, Works Manager for Africa & Asia. Our discussion quickly revealed some common interests in the countries we operate in, local organisations we work with and challenges specific to countries including security and the ability to transfer funds in.

I paid a courtesy call on the UK's International Security Advisory Team (ISAT) compound in Freetown. Whilst there, I had the opportunity to meet Lt Col Matt Palmer, Royal Welch and the Head of ISAT, Charlotte Gage. I thanked them both for the support that ISAT provided SLESA during the recent veteran and widow verification and payment tours.

Meeting with Veterans and Widows
I returned to the SLESA office at Cockerill Barracks to meet some 8 veterans and 4 widows applying for welfare grants. All the veterans were pre-independence and their dates of enlistment ranged from 1954 through to 1960. Two of the veterans were brothers, both of whom had served 10 years but with a two-year difference between enlistment and discharge. I commented to them that the older of the two actually looked younger - they agreed and were somewhat amused!

I was then taken to meet Pte Samuel Sesay who is 99 years old in his daughter's home. He told me about his service during the Second World War, starting with his training in Nigeria for 6 months. He then travelled by sea to Bombay and thence to the Arakan via Chittagong. He remembered being initially very seasick during his passage to Bombay and being greeted on arrival in the Arakan by the same Guard Commander who had been with him during his training in Nigeria! I noted the excellent condition of his medals which were court mounted and he told me that this had been arranged by a previous British High Commissioner.

During the visit, I was able to confirm that Pte Sesay had received his grant money and he showed me his copy of the payment receipt which matched the receipts I had seen in the office.

Sierra Leone is a hugely problematic country for RCEL to operate in. Over ten years of bloody civil war, natural disasters, Ebola and corruption ensure everyday life is very difficult for all. It should be remembered that all those who assist with our operations do so without payment. Thanks to Derrick Cobbinah and Sam Sahr we have strengthened our in-country representation and SLESA governance. This representation and good governance helps us and SLESA deliver life changing welfare grants to the most needy Sierra Leone veterans and widows who served the British Crown before independence.

L-R, Sam Sahr, WO2 (Ret’d) Sheku Kabba, David Thompson, Lt Col (Ret’d) Fatorma Gottor, Lt Col (Ret’d) Domonic Sowa and Derrick Cobbinah

Tours RCEL West Africa Project Officer Derrick Cobbinah
FOOD BOX DISTRIBUTION  November - December 2020

Inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore's walk to raise funds for the NHS, during May 2020, Burma veteran Private Joseph Hammond walked 14 miles in 7 days through Accra to raise fundsfor frontline health workers and needy veterans in Africa. On the final day of his walk, 25 May, Africa Day, he was joined by Iain Walker, High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Ghana. Joseph raised £43,800 from which £10,000 was donated to RCEL for the benefit of Ghana resident veterans and the food box tour was born.

Derrick Cobbinah, with Member Organisation, Veterans Administration Ghana (VAG) and food box providers Give Back Ghana, embarked on the tour with his Land Rover Defender.

First stop was with fundraiser Private Hammond in Accra. As always he was pleased to receive visitors and appreciated the gift from RCEL. His food box showed it was the donation to RCEL from his fundraising walk that would enable other needy veterans in more remote areas to receive a box too.

Box (above) contents rice, spaghetti, tinned sardines, tinned tomatoes, corned beef, loaf of bread, toilet roll, hand sanitizers and washing powder. Contents were tailored to regional preferences between bread or rice.

Former Private, Kwesi Amoateng was visited in Kumasi and believed to be one of the oldest veterans in Ghana. The road to his house was too bad even for the Land Rover so delivery was by hand to his door. When taking the picture Kwesi Amoateng insisted on removing masks so the world would see his face.

After several legs and covering a distance of 1,200 miles, 323 food boxes were distributed to beneficiaries in Accra, Koforidua, Kumasi, Tamale, Cape Coast, Takoradi and Ho. In addition, VAG took the opportunity to conduct proof of life verification and pay welfare grants to SCOWP beneficiaries.

Sadly, due to Covid restrictions the tour could not visit all Ghana regions. Boxes for those veterans and widows were sent to the VAG regional executives to be distributed locally.

The tour was a great opportunity to use locally raised funds to provide a very welcome box of food to so many needy veterans and widows in addition to the welfare grant.

Veterans receiving a food box from Derrick Cobbinah
Koforidua - Former Corporal, Daniel Kwadwo receives his welfare grant. Pictured with his daughter Emilia.
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