Suspense at Suspending – the Global Fund and Mali

A few years ago, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) issued as evaluation report that among other things documented that among three types of agencies who had served as Principal Recipients (PR) of funds – government entities, international organizations (e.g. UNDP) and Non-governmental organizations – the latter had the best performance record on average.  Not long after, GFATM issued a directive that with all grant applications there must be at least one NGO nominated as PR.

dscn1973-sm.JPGNo organization is perfect, but NGOs are known for being flexible and able to innovate and involve the grassroots, particularly the people who are living with the three diseases. In contrast, we outlined the challenges of big government bureaucracies and corruption a few days ago. Now it seems that the ‘disease’ of corruption is more widespread than expected.

Unfortunately it appears to be Mali’s turn in the spotlight now. A press release from GFATM yesterday announced that it had “suspended funding of two malaria grants in Mali with immediate effect and has terminated a third grant for tuberculosis (TB) after it found evidence of misappropriation and unjustified expenditure.” Ironically, one of the suspended PRs is an NGO.

An Associated Press story explained that, “The announcement came two days after Malian Health Minister Oumar Ibrahima Toure resigned without explanation on Sunday.” The story went on to announce that, “The fund said the $4 million appeared to have been skimmed through false invoices, fake bid documents and overcharging for goods and services,” and that 15 unnamed government officials had been arrested. The GFATM Executive Director was quoted as saying …

The Global Fund tolerates no fraud, and we take public action to stop it, recover lost money and establish new and trustworthy channels for resources so they can reach those in need.

The Associated Press story also explained that, “The poor, landlocked West African nation relies on international donors to fund its health system. In August another international body, the GAVI Alliance, which helps get vaccines to developing countries, also froze the funds it gives to Mali because of corruption fears.”

Apparently GFATM officials are in Bamako to rescue the funds and ensure that disease control services are not disrupted, especially in this year when countries are trying to achieve universal coverage. The GFATM press release also indicated that, “Management of the two suspended grants will be transferred to a new Principal Recipient.” A watchlist has been formed of grants requiring closer financial scrutiny including Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Mali, Mauritania and Papua New Guinea.

GFATM is about to disburse its 10th Round of Funding. It is encouraging that over the past 10 rounds relatively few cases of outright embezzlement of GFATM monies and corruption have been documented, because the temptation is certainly large. Sometimes threatened suspension of grants arises simply from poor management and performance.  The fact that GFATM is setting up mechanisms for more accountability among grantees is a timely step.

We have come too far along the pathway toward malaria elimination to be derailed by corruption.

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