A GNA FEATURE BY EUNICE MENKA
Accra, Sept. 16, GNA - It is sad but true that some economic vampires are feeding fat on the HIV/AIDS pandemic to the detriment of the well-being of people living under the burden of the infection. Global reports of misapplication of funds and outright theft of HIV/AIDS funds are beginning to seep through.
The pre-occupation of the global HIV/AIDS community to pressing issues such as the search for a cure and control of the epidemic has given a free hand to some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to operate anyhow with very little control over their activities. Surprisingly, some of these organisations have no offices, or permanent addresses and have just one man, a non- professional, operating from a briefcase in hand.
To secure funding, these fake NGOs quickly set up temporary offices, organise an event and arrange for good media coverage, which is then used as a basis to grab funds.
It is becoming easier for some of these organisations to lay hands on quick money due to the multi-sectoral-approach involved in tackling the pandemic.
There are thousands of NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs) working in the HIV/AIDS sector worldwide, Ghana could count over 2,000 such organisations working with the Ghana AIDS Commission. Professor Awuku Sakyi Amoa, Director-General of the Commission, said there are some bad nuts among organisations working in the field but they are in the minority.
According to him, it was impossible to get a hundred percent compliance among organisation working in the field.
He has dismissed the generalisation of media reports and said "about 85 per cent of these organisations utilise the funds properly. There is a gap between public perception and what is really happening." "We need to encourage and not demoralise them," Prof. Amoa told the Parliamentary Press Corps at a two-day HIV/AIDS workshop in Dodowa, in the Eastern Region recently.
The 2003 Annual Report of the Ghana AIDS Commission captures 17 defaulting organisations that were detected to have misapplied funds including those that could not be traced.
These organisations were directed to refund the amounts involved and their projects were terminated.
Although, cases of misapplied funds may be on the low side in the country, it is still worrying since the issue is beginning to receive some attention globally.
There have been similar reports in other countries on the African continent.
Zambia's Minister of Community and Social welfare, Marina Nsingo, last year, threatened to de-register NGOs, which have mushroomed over the past decade, many purporting to work for poverty alleviation and AIDS-related issues.
Media reports quotes over 150 NGOs focusing exclusively on HIV/AIDS in that country.
Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, also in March last year, told an HIV/AIDS Conference attended by United Nations and government officials across Southern Africa, that most civil society groups were composed of family members who got donor funding under the guise of AIDS prevention programmes.
Kenya's National AIDS Control Council has also witnessed several abuses. In August 2003, the Kenya government cut funding to four AIDS organisations alleging fraud.
Several organisations in Kenya have also been involved in investigations for misuse of funds meant for HIV/AIDS programmes.
Although, many of these organisations may not be directly involved in outright theft of funds, it is on record that some NGOs use a bigger part of the funds on salaries, renting of offices and office supplies instead of HIV/AIDS intervention programmes.
The operations of these organisations have gone unnoticed because many countries do not have a national policy that could regulate the sector.
These organisations have also escaped the attention of the media because the coverage of HIV/AIDS is usually event-driven. Media coverage are usually limited to press conferences and invitation to cover scheduled events and therefore the press is unable to go behind the scenes to monitor the operations of these organisations within the communities.
It is encouraging however that the misuse of resources and the over concentration of efforts in one area by some of these organisations are beginning to receive some attention.
How effectively HIV/AIDS resources are managed would directly impact on the scale of successes chalked in managing the epidemic. The HIV/AIDS world has in recent times witnessed huge inflows of resources, including the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is now available to many countries, including Ghana. With the backing of the US Congress, President Bush's 15 billion dollar Emergency Plan, the largest global health initiative to fight the pandemic has also taken off.
Several African countries such as Ghana are also benefiting from bilateral agreements with the US Agency for International Development (USAIDS) on HIV/AIDS related projects.
All these resources need to be accounted for to ensure continuous donor support for many developing countries reeling under the burden of the pandemic. "We need to account to Congress. We need to focus on results in order to get support from Congress", Dr Connie Carrino, Director of HIV/AIDS at the USAID office in Washington, told a group of African journalists on an HIV/AIDS Reporting tour of the United States in June this year.
In an interview with the Ghana News Agency, Prof Amoa said donors were concerned with the use of funds and therefore, the Ghana AIDS Commission was committed to ensuring that monies were not mismanaged. He said checks and balances have been established to oversee the activities of organisations being funded by the commission.
Prof. Amoa said there were a number of interventions, including spot checks on the activities of NGOs in the sector to ensure accountability in their operations.
Besides, he said, the bulk of monies needed by organisations were given in tranches and the organisations have to follow up with a progress and financial report on their activities after which they could then receive additional funding upon satisfactory performance. Prof. Amoa said another way the Commission was ensuring accountability was to send investigators to conduct spot-checks on the operations of these organisations without their notice. He said: "These investigators act as "whistle blowers" and if there is reason to doubt the operations of an organisation, auditors are sent in to audit their activities."
It is becoming clearer that NGOs and CBOs cannot be left on their own. Another area that needs serious attention is the over concentration of these organisations in one area of activity. Donors are also grappling with the issue of trying to strike a balance between ensuring accountability and allowing grant recipients the flexibility of deciding on how to use funds effectively. The big question is should more funds be made available to prevention activities, treatment or research?
"HIV/AIDS prevention activities should not be eclipsed by treatment programmes," Jennifer Cooke of the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, told the African journalists during their tour. She said since treatment activities were measurable as compared to those of prevention activities, there was a natural pressure to meet treatment targets to satisfy donors' quest for results. On measures to ensure that all areas of interventions, including prevention and care, benefited from funding to avoid over concentration in one area, Prof. Amoa said Ghana has 27 indicators to support all areas of HIV/AIDS activities.
He said Ghana's interventions were supported by various international guidelines including those of the Millennium Development Goals. He mentioned another guideline as the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS, where Heads of State and governments met to secure a global commitment to enhance and coordinate the international response to the pandemic in a more comprehensive manner. Managing HIV/AIDS resources should however be the concern of all players in the field to ensure effective control of the epidemic.