Inquiry Into Alleged Mismanagement of Ugandan Global Fund Grants Has Revealed ‘Pile of Filth,’ Commission Head Says
The Ugandan commission investigating the alleged mismanagement of Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria grants has heard assertions of inflated expenditures, inaccurate receipts and improper allocation of funds, amounting to what head of the commission James Ogoola recently called a "pile of filth," PlusNews reports (PlusNews, 4/3). The Global Fund in August 2005 announced the suspension of five grants to Uganda worth $367 million after an audit of one of the grants by PricewaterhouseCoopers found evidence of mismanagement by the Ugandan Ministry of Health's Project Management Unit, which was established to implement the grants. The government later that month appointed a four-member commission to investigate the allegations and brought in international accounting and auditing firm Ernst & Young to take over temporary management of the country's AIDS funding from PMU (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/1/05). The Global Fund in November 2005 resumed funding to Uganda after signing an agreement with the Ugandan Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development that strengthened the oversight of programs receiving funds (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/11/05). Senior government officials, including Health Minister Jim Muhwezi and state ministers for health Mike Mukula and Alex Kamugisha, have denied any misconduct, and the commission has not finished its investigation. However, Ogoola during Muhwezi's testimony told the minister, "The affairs of the state have gone singularly wrong under your stewardship. ... The body and essence of the Ministry of Health in general and the Global Fund in particular have been corrupted to the core under your political leadership" (PlusNews, 4/3). The Ugandan government last week said it has established an account in the Central Bank where those found to have misappropriated funds would be ordered to refund the money (PlusNews, 4/3).
The Ugandan government, the Global Fund and other aid programs must ensure that they "preserve the sense of commitment and solidarity without which no development program can succeed," Helen Epstein, visiting scholar at the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece. According to Epstein, the main reason Uganda was the first African country to see a nationwide decline in HIV prevalence was "a shared sense of humanity, social cohesion, mutual aid and commitment that is impossible to quantify or program." When international donor agencies, including the World Bank and USAID, began funding a larger share of Uganda's HIV/AIDS programs in 1993, they "supported many vital programs," but at the same time they "bureaucratized the response to AIDS," Epstein writes. She adds that it allowed some people "to see AIDS less as a terrible scourge and more as a growth industry and an opportunity for a career move." Although it is "heartening to see how seriously the Ugandans are taking" the alleged misuse of Global Fund grants -- which has had "fatal consequences" -- nothing "can erase the fact that an enormous act of international goodwill that may not come again has been squandered," Epstein says. "Truly well-designed aid programs involve hard, unglamorous work and have very modest goals," Epstein writes, adding, "They involve close monitoring of simple projects, and they are run by officials who learn quickly from their mistakes and recognize that aid is inevitably political, so they anticipate and address such problems as they arise" (Epstein, Los Angeles Times, 4/2).