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Global Fund Grants And Our Dangerous 'Doctors' By Sonala Olumhense

It is easy to forget that in the very early years of this millennium, HIV/AIDS threatened to wipe out the African continent, ravenously feasting on its best and strongest.

That was why, in a special summit in Abuja in April 2001, African leaders declared HIV/AIDS a continental emergency.

They went further to call on Africa’s friends to make a significant special effort to help, in the range of $5-10 billion (US) to respond to AIDS.

That was the genesis of what became known as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which the United States kicked off with a founding donation of $200 million.  Keep in mind: that was just in the month following the meeting of African leaders in Nigeria.

By August, the Global Fund had attracted up to $1.4 billion in one-time contributions.  Progress was slow following the terrorist attacks of September that year on the United States, but the work of the Fund carried on.

Naturally, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Fund was Nigeria, principally because of the size of her population; over the next decade, it would invest over US$1.4 billion in the country.

But then came June 2011, when the Fund published its first Country Audit of its grants to Nigeria and uncovered widespread looting of the resources by several organisations.

The Office of the Inspector-General (OIG), which was responsible for the investigation, had begun its review in March 2010, with a focus on the period between 2003 and 2009.

During those six years, Nigeria signed 15 grants totalling $682,149,515. Of that amount, $474,519,260 was disbursed to Nigerian organisations that included: the National Action Committee on HIV/AIDS (NACA); the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP); the Yakubu Gowon Centre for International Co-operation (YGC); the Society for Family Health (SFH); the Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH); the Christian Health Association of Nigeria (CHAN); and the CHAN-MEDIPHARM (MEDIPHARM).

What the Fund discovered was that most of the nearly $475m had gone into nurturing the greed of Nigerian officials.  In local parlance, they (mostly) ate the money.

In fact, so bad was the “misuse” of the funds that not only did the organisation demand that some of the organisations return vast sums of money immediately, it even threatened to terminate further assistance to Nigeria.

Here are just three examples of the irresponsibility, beginning with the YGC, which was the happy recipient of $172 million during the period.  According to the report, YGC carelessly and lavishly—and illegally—transferred nearly $16m to third party foreign bank accounts.

In a similar vein, the Federal Government-owned NACA was found to have been routinely disbursing funds meant for some programme sub-recipients into personal bank accounts.  Among others, it incurred $679,000 in unretired expenditures.

For its part, the NMCP did not even maintain a bank account, preferring to write cheques for programme activities in the names of chosen staff.  The audit showed $711,000 in unretired staff advances, among others, and the Fund ordered it to refund $132,000 it could not account for.

“The audit revealed an unreconciled difference of $711,793 between the amounts disbursed by the Centre and the amount acknowledged as received by the NMCP staff,” the Inspector-General said.

CHAN, somehow, illegally transferred $11.6m to non-programme-related bank accounts abroad that were later trafficked back into its local naira bank account.  Among others, it was asked to refund $2.9 million in questionable spending.

In November of that year, Bloomberg News reported that the grant money the Fund was struggling to recover worldwide was about $19.2 million in eight countries, including you-know-which.

“The (Global Fund) reports, which examined $1 billion in grants, expand the extent of fraud and misuse of money discovered by internal investigators,” Bloomberg News said.  “The organisation said last year it was seeking the recovery of $44.2 million in four nations for “grave misuse of funds.”

The report cited how desperate the Nigeria case was, pointing out: “Money was siphoned to a person arrested in 2003 for money laundering and smuggling diamonds that are mined and sold to support the war.”

All of that was in 2010, as the sun began to rise on the stealing-is-not-corruption era.  Still the so-called Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), shedding crocodile tears as was its character, responded by swearing it would probe seven of those cited in the report, and bring all those involved to justice.

But it was a joke, and the ICPC—far and away Nigeria’s biggest institutional enabler of corruption in the past 12 years—sat on its hands.  And so we arrive in 2016, and the latest report of The Fund, and to another scandal.

In the report, which investigated grants disbursed in Nigeria between 2010 and 2014, “The auditors found discrepancies of over US$4 million between drugs ordered and delivered; US$20 million paid to suppliers without confirmation of delivery; stock-outs of eight months for critical medicines; and a total of US$7.65 million in unsupported expenditures.”

In response to the new scandal, Nigeria’s current government this month asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to undertake a full investigation of the misappropriations, and of the Fund’s previous audits.

In addition, the government has also set up two investigative panels to look into the affected programmes and the financial transactions.  Two panels, the first led by Health Minister Isaac Adewole, will review all of the programmes; while another, led by Auditor General Samuel Ukura, will review all financial transactions during the period.

It is an overkill, but both panels are to submit their reports within four weeks.

The first thing one notices is that following the first report, the Fund clearly downsized its attention to Nigeria.  Contrary to the large numbers in the first report, the new one speaks in small figures: “Discrepancies in antiretroviral drugs deliveries of US$3.7 million,” or “a total of US$7.65 million of unsupported expenses.”

But again, here is a slice of how the government, specifically NACA’s Department of Health Planning, Research & Statistics (DPRS), betrayed the national cause: “The OIG…found extensive evidence of systematic embezzlement of programme funds, fraudulent practices and collusion by DPRS staff and consultants assigned to the Global Fund-financed programme…found some form of irregularity or fraud in most vouchers reviewed…(and) seven of the 10 staff and three consultants assigned to the programme were involved or linked to the misappropriation of funds.”

The DPRS staff, the report said, misrepresented or inflated hotel expenditures; falsified or inflated receipts related to Daily Subsistence Allowance entitlements and transport; collected funds for travel not made; colluded with and received kickbacks from hotels and suppliers, and inflated the number of attendees at an event, or its duration.

What all of this means is a familiar Nigerian tale: the unconscionable betrayal of a people and a principle by privileged officials.

In this case, the worst offenders are those of the ICPC in 2010, who should be arrested along with those who directly looted the funds, but punished far more severely for crimes of duplicity and complicity.

The lip service of anti-graft officials in the course of justice is far more harmful to a people than those who chose wrong over right in the first place.