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Identify, Prosecute Those Behind COVID-19/HIV Fund Misappropriation

 The recent report by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria detailing the questionable manner in which its $19.6m COVID-19 procurement grant to Nigeria was utilised has raised some questions.

Global Fund gave the grant to the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), to address COVID-19-induced challenges affecting people living with HIV/AIDS.  The list of complaints by the fund shows a violation by the local implementers of the principle of contract tendering and award system, DailyTrust reports. An audit of the grant revealed that $19.6m worth of procurements related to COVID-19 were awarded to contractors who had no financial statements, while some were even unregistered businesses.

The report was made by the Office of the Inspector General, an independent body of the Geneva-based global fund that reports directly to the board through its Audit and Finance Committee. The report picked holes in virtually every aspect of the procurement process. For instance, it reported, “The audit noted non-adherence with eligibility requirements for 67% (six out of nine) of sampled procurements totalling US $7.5m, where vendors were awarded contracts without providing bank/performance guarantees, despite this being a pre-condition for contract awards. Furthermore, the report decried the fact that “A joint venture was awarded two contracts worth $3.5m without being legally registered, and without providing the bank/performance guarantee.

“In addition, eight of nine sampled vendors were awarded contracts amounting to $8.6m despite not providing certified financial statements.”

The audit also took a swipe at the NACA’s procurement evaluation process, which it said is lacking in technical and financial scoring criteria to assess the best-suited bidder beyond the set eligibility criteria. It noted, for instance, that contracts were awarded to the lowest-priced bidder, without regard to the technical qualifications and capacity. “For example, 63,056 procured masks by CRS were rejected by the Association for Civil Society in Malaria Control, Immunisation and Nutrition, as unusable, while a $3.5m contract to supply coveralls and lab gowns was awarded to a vendor who had only previously handled contract totalling $71,000 and who subsequently requested to extend the delivery period from six to 12 weeks.” These are weighty observations, indeed indictments, from a global partner that has been doing so much in the fight against the three epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Global Fund now, in its 20th year of operation, has played a major role in the effort to curtail the spread of these diseases. Records indicate that as of September 2021, it had approved over $62 billion, out of about $73 billion pledged by donors, in grants to over 120 countries to enable them to tackle the three epidemics. It also stepped in to give a boost in the fight against the latest global threat, COVID-19, as it relates to the impact of the pandemic on people with HIV/AIDS. It is pertinent to highlight here that its activities are funded purely through donations from countries and some private-sector organisations. Among the leading donors are America, which accounts for about 30 per cent of donations; France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Canada, the European Commission, other countries, and the Bill Gates Foundation. Given that most of those suffering from these diseases are poor and, therefore, cannot afford the treatment, it is imperative that maximum support should be given to the fund in its efforts to mobilise international funding to tackle the diseases. The best way to show this is to ensure judicious use of every cent or kobo it provides for given tasks.

The significance of the fund’s work can be gleaned from the enormity of the challenges posed by these diseases. As of 2020, there were 37.7 million people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with 67 per cent of them being in sub-Saharan Africa. Of this, 1.5 million were new infections, according to UNAIDS. With more responsibilities being shouldered by Global Fund, there is a need for local partners working with it to apply the highest level of decorum and uprightness in the use and application of financial resources released by the agency. This does not seem to have been so in the manner in which NACA handled the $19. 6m COVID-19 procurement grant. We express this view despite the arguments put forward by NACA through its Director-General, Dr Gambo Aliyu, that the issues raised by Global Fund were mere audit queries that do not amount to an accusation. Daily Trust insists that this agency cannot be the judge in its own case.

We, therefore, call on the government to institute an independent panel of enquiry into the issue with the aim of unravelling what exactly went wrong, and who flouted extant procedures of handling contract awards. How much was lost or misappropriated in the process? Those found culpable must be brought to book. To sweep this under the carpet could amount to tacit support for recklessness, and we warn that the country cannot afford that at this point in time when the growing global challenges could soon lead to donor fatigue. Should this happen, Nigeria would be one of the worst-hit countries, given the magnitude of the problems we face.

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