The Global Fund Observer has poignantly highlighted the risks of losing a voice for civil society at the Global Fund.Â The Fund to date had been one of the few donor groups to actively encourage civil society organization (CSO) participation on grant writing and management and has developed the innovative community systems strengthening approach to show that the people who live with the conditions supported by grants are as important as the systems that deliver formal health services.
While civil society is not perfect, it has served important functions within the Global Fund strategy.Â To date the Global Fund Board has asserted the need for civil society representation on Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCMS) as well as ensuring that CSOs are also considered equally as principal recipients (PRs) of funding.Â This was based in part on findings some years ago that CSOs achieved better grant performance scores on average than did government or UN agency PRs.
CSOs come in many colors, but an important function of CSOs in any setting, even beyond the funding and management of Global Fund projects, is to serve as advocate and watchdog. Â This is a crucial role as the GFATM’s Office of the Inspector General continues to uncover problems in grant management.Â Here we don’t want to confuse NGO with CSO because some politically well connected NGOs have been caught with their hands in the till just as have government ministries. (One even wonders if recently disclosed Global Fund improprieties in Mali’s Ministry of Health were not a symptom of government weakness and corruption that led to its downfall?)
There is even worry expressed by the Civil Society Action Team that these moves might threaten the role of civil society in CCMs.
After dissolving the Civil Society Team at the GFATM, the new management wants civil society to feel happy that they now have several paths through which to pursue their interests – thus is laughable – the more paths, the more confusion and the less clear the status of civil society.
As mentioned from the start, the GFATM pioneered civil society involvement in major international grants processes because the ultimate recipients of such grants are often ignored with the consequence that targets are not achieved.Â Most of the money that the GFATM receives comes from individual taxpayers in G8 countries. We taxpayers as members of our own communities want equal recognition of the members of endemic country communities in providing oversight to grants and becoming active participants in program implementation and evaluation.
It is not too much to ask that the people who should benefit most from the Global Fund have a distinct, definable role in the Fund’s processes.