Global Fund – timely oversight or trigger happy

In the past year the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) has suspended grants in Mauritania, The Philippines, Zambia, and Mali. In fact one grant to Mali was terminated. Efforts to identify high risk grants are underway.
Some are saying that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of GFATM is finally showing some teeth, while others worry that actions to suspend and terminate will harm the very persons that the Global Fund was set up to help. At the recent 22nd GFATM Board Meeting the Executive Director provided the following comments based on OIG work:

  • Based on recent OIG findings in a number of countries, activities involving cash transfers for training events and associated costs, including per diems, travel, meal and expense payments, are in many cases posing a high risk of misuse
  • The OIG has identified five countries where measures to protect Global Fund-financed drug shipments from theft need to be implemented
  • The Secretariat and OIG agree that LFAs have not been sufficiently focused on the identification of fraud risks and actual fraud in Global Fund-financed programs, and may not currently have the capacity to address these risks

Prior to the recent Board meeting, one wonders whether the communication between the Secretariat, the Executive Director and the Office of the Inspector General were clear and efficient. A 6th December 2010 memo entitled “Joint communication on Inspector General matters” mentioned that, “The Inspector General and the Executive Director of the Global Fund have initiated sincere effort towards collaboration to follow up on recent findings by the Inspector General as well as to take steps to permanently strengthen grant oversight.”

The memo concluded that, “The Global Fund, by nature of its mandate, sometimes has to work with entities with weak programmatic and financial capacity, and to operate in environments where there may be a paucity of financial controls and lack of oversight systems. The Global Fund’s risk management systems are constantly improving. Recently discovered fraud has made the Secretariat determined to redouble its efforts to improve these systems.”

In some cases of suspended grants the Global Fund is looking for alternative Principal Recipients to manage the funds or find alternatives to ensure services to those in need do not cease to be served.  The concern about the Local Fund Agents is valid since the Global Fund, unlike other international agencies, does not have country offices or provide technical assistance.

Several years ago I worked with a team in Nigeria to design and deliver adolescent and youth peer education on reproductive health through community based organizations (CBOs). The initial effort focused on how to organize and train peer educators and the technical aspects of reproductive health. Eventually it became obvious when one CBO leader was using her personal bank account to keep project funds that the local CBOs needed as much technical assistance in establishing and maintaining proper financial and accounting procedures as they did in organizing peer based reproductive health education.

The Global Fund operates in a scale thousands of times larger that our small peer education projects, but the basic principle remains. Don’t condemn local organizations for poor financial performance if you did not try to help them develop better financial and accountability procedures in the first place.

Currently 22% of grants are considered to be poor performers. Too much is at stake in reaching 2015 and beyond to simply say to poor performers, “sorry, your funds are suspended.”

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