I have long been critical of many aspects of the work of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and it therefore comes as no surprise to learn that the Fund’s newly reinforced Inspector General’s office has encountered corruption. What is surprising, though, is its scale. As an Associated Press report on 24th January comments, “A full 67 percent of money spent on an anti-AIDS program in Mauritania was misspent, the investigators told the fund’s board of directors. So did 36 percent of the money spent on a program in Mali to fight tuberculosis and malaria, and 30 percent of grants to Djibouti.In Zambia, where $3.5 million in spending was undocumented and one accountant pilfered $104,130, the fund decided the nation’s health ministry simply couldn’t manage the grants and put the United Nations in charge of them. The fund is trying to recover $7 million in “unsupported and ineligible costs” from the ministry.”
In response, the Global Fund has issues a Press Release, including the following assertions: “The Global Fund has zero tolerance for corruption and actively seeks to uncover any evidence of misuse of its funds. It deploys some of the most rigorous procedures to detect fraud and fight corruption of any organization financing development. The vast majority of funds disbursed by the Global Fund is untainted by corruption and is delivering dramatic results in the fight against the three diseases.“Transparency is a guiding principle behind the work of the Global Fund and we expect to be held to the highest standards of accountability,” said Prof. Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund. The news report that has caused concerns refers to well-known incidents that have been reported by the Global Fund and acted on last year. There are no new revelations in yesterday’s media reports. In its report last year, the Global Fund’s Inspector General listed grave misuse of funds in four of the 145 countries which receive grants from the Global Fund. As a result immediate steps were taken in Djibouti, Mali, Mauritania and Zambia, to recover misappropriated funds and to prevent future misuse of grant money”.
At the time of the World Summit for the Information Society in 2003 and 2005, many private sector and civil society organisations were clamouring for a similar fund to support the implementation of ICT4D initiatives, and I distinctly remember discussions among donor government officials who strongly opposed such ideas. In part, their arguments were based on the need to focus on using general budgetary support mechanisms to foster economic growth through Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper processes, but they also reflected concerns about the difficulty of ensuring that money from funds such as the Global Fund could be appropriately accounted for. Whilst there are problems in accounting for all so-called Official Development Assistance, the Global Fund’s experiences suggest that bilateral donors were right in their scepticism. It is to be hoped that all those involved in the substantial disbursal of ‘development assistance’, and especially some of the large private foundations that have been established in recent years, will look closely at these findings, and act upon them to ensure that well-intentioned assistance does indeed go to the people who have most need of it.