The Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) has challenged 122 Members of Parliament (MPs) to account for various sums of money they collected in June, 2004 to undertake HIV/AIDS advocacy programmes.
Consequently, the commission has asked the leadership of Parliament to ensure that the affected MPs accounted for the money.
“If the affected MPs fail to account for the money, we will impress upon the leadership of Parliament to use part of their ex-gratia awards to pay for the amount,” the GAC Director-General, Professor Sakyi Awuku Amoa, said.
He disclosed that ¢3.4 billion was paid to a total of 158 sitting and former MPs but out of the lot, only 36 members rendered account on what they had.
Eighty-seven out of the 158 are sitting MPs, while 71 lost their seats during the 2004 general election. In addition, out of the 36 who submitted their reports, 22 are in the current Parliament, while 14 are former MPs.
For such behaviour, Professor Amoa said, the commission would not provide any funding for any MP for the awareness creation functions of the commission until the defaulting MPs rendered account.
Professor Amoa was speaking on the topic, “The Situation of HIV/AIDS in Ghana to date and the Role of MPs”, at this month' Legislative Series on HIV/AIDS organised by the Parliamentary Centre, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Accra.
The programme, which was part of the Ghana Parliamentary Committee Support Project II (GPCSP II), was held on the theme: “Breaking the HIV/AIDS Chain in Ghana, the Role of Parliament”, and attended by MPs on the Parliamentary Select Committees on Gender and Children, Health and Local Government.
Professor Amoa said in view of the important advocacy, political and legal roles MPs were required to play in the national response to the pandemic, the GAC decided to support all the then 200 MPs with ¢20 million each to undertake intervention activities.
He added that with the disbursement of the funds, the commission empowered the MPs to monitor the work of NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs) in the constituencies and provide a feedback on their operations.
“Unfortunately, some MPs have not yet accounted for the funds granted them for these activities. Consequently, and regrettably, GAC is not in a position to give further funding support to our MPs,” he stressed.
Professor Amoa stated that for some time now the commission had tried to use diplomacy to handle the issue without success and debunked the assertion that the time when the MPs were given the grant was not appropriate.
He explained that since the beneficiary MPs got the grant six months before the 2004 general election, it was the best period for them to have used their platforms to speak about the pandemic and report back to the commission.
Speaking on the topic, Professor Amoa said the role defined for MPs by the national policy on HIV/AIDS clearly indicated that they were allies of the GAC.
He said the crucial political leadership MPs provided for the national campaign could not be underestimated, adding that as MPs, they were expected to contribute to the high political advocacy being performed by the President, the Vice-President and the First Lady on the national response.
Professor Amoa said in the constituencies, the MPs were expected to be mobilisers of the communities and educate them to be responsible for their lives, saying, “It is your role to assist in offering them leadership and guidance towards adopting positive behavioural lifestyles.”
He called on the MPs to take interest in reviewing existing laws that posed problems for the national campaign against the pandemic and cited, for example, that the existing law on abortion, in the face of HIV/AIDS, needed to be reviewed.
“How do we deal with individuals who wilfully infect others through rape or violence? How do we protect our productive workforce against discrimination and stigmatisation?” Professor Amoa questioned, and said these and many more issues would have to be addressed sooner than later.
Professor Amoa indicated that activities under the second phase of the national response from 2006-2010 had been decentralised and district assemblies, through the district AIDS committees and the district health management teams (DHMTs) would now be responsible for the evaluation, selection and award of contracts, as well as monitoring activities of CBOs and NGOs in the districts.
He said the assemblies would be provided with funds for their own intervention activities, adding that district chief executives (DCEs) and district monitoring and evaluation officers would be the supervisors of intervention activities in the districts and communities.
In a statement, the In-Country Coordinator of the GPCSP II, Ms Marilyn Aniwa, said in addition to the policy challenges of prevention and treatment, there was a growing recognition of the challenge involved in the provision of long-term care for HIV/AIDS patients.
She added that there was crucial work for MPs to undertake in the fight against HIV/AIDS in terms of their roles in advocacy, legislation, representation and oversight.