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Our NGOs Have a Case to Answer

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Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, speaks to Tobs Agbaegbu, senior associate editor, and Sule Elaigwu, reporter/researcher, on the indictment of  Yakubu Gowon Centre and other Non-Governmental Organisanisations in Nigeria, for mismanagement of funds. Excerpts

Newswatch: The Global Fund has indicted some Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, in Nigeria and particularly descended heavily on the Yakubu Gowon Centre, over mismanagement of funds. What is your official reaction to this?

Chukwu: Basically, the issue is what is known as the OIG’s Report. That is, a report from the office of the Inspector General of the Global Fund. The Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a United Nation’s agency that grants funds to NGOs. The money the Global Fund spends comes from donors. For instance, Nigeria is a donor too. So far, we have made a commitment of $30 million out of which we have redeemed $20 million. We are also a recipient.

On assumption of duty for the first time as minister in April 2010, it was one of the issues that were on my table, that there was an ongoing audit of the implementation of the Global Fund. It’s an audit that covers the beginning of the Global Fund’s actions in Nigeria, dating back to 2002. Now, the final report just came out last year. All this while, there have been interim reports. And in the final report, there are only three groups that have outstanding issues. They are the Yakubu Gowon Centre, YGC, National Action Committee for Aids, NACA, and the Christian Health Association of Nigeria, CHAN. Actually, there are basically two issues for each of the groups. One is what the OIG calls “unsupported.” That means, they could not find evidence of the recipients and authority for spending. The other is what they call “ineligible,” which means even if they meant well, in their choice of what you spend money on, it was not part of what was agreed in the contract between the recipients of the funds and the Global Funds.

What the OIG report recommended to the Global Fund and what the Global Fund is saying is that the organisations should refund these unsupported or ineligible expenses. In the case of YGC, the total amount they are requesting them to refund is about $4 million and for NACA, it is about $763,000. For CHAN, the amount is about $2.5 million. There is a body called the CCM, that is, Country Co-ordinating Mechanism. The body, like any other actually does two principal things. It does the initial recommendation to the Global Funds to push projects and programmes worthy of support and say which group should be the recipient of the funds. The other function of the CCM is to provide oversight. But over time, we have found out that Global Funds and CCM are learning. Apparently, there has not been such a fund before. Everybody has been learning, and with time, they will be modified.

Despite that, the federal government of Nigeria felt that we needed to strengthen the CCM Nigeria, and one of the things to do was to sponsor the election of the minister of health to be the chairman of the CCM Nigeria. It is part of strengthening the governing structure of the CCM. But the CCM Nigeria is going further. Right now, there is a retreat going on in Enugu, and it will last till Friday this week. It started on Sunday. Part of what is being discussed in Enugu is to see how we can strengthen the CCM to be able to perform its roles.  We are doing it in conjunction with the Global Funds. Global Funds too, is undergoing a reform. Recently, there has been a change in the leadership of the Global Funds. So, it’s all part of strengthening these institutions.

Now, what CCM Nigeria has already done is to set up what we call a ‘Recovery Task Team,’ which I head as the health minister and chairman of the CCM. Other members are the auditor general of the federation; director of legal services in the Federal Ministry of Health, the representatives of the civil societies who are members of the CCM and the secretary is the secretary of CCM. We have interacted with these three groups and I can tell you that a lot of progress has been made. In some instances, the groups have agreed to refund the funds that fall under ‘unsupported or ineligible’ categories. In some other areas, they are still contesting. We are in touch with the Global Funds and we have told Global Fund that we will soon forward to them the areas they are contesting, to make sure that we don’t just go on a wild goose chase; we first want to do a forensic audit. So, we submitted those areas they think Global Fund needs to look at again to the accountant general of the Federation to go through.

Once it is certified that there is a case to make, we will send them to Global Funds. However, it does seem to us that the YGC would prefer arbitration rather than going through the Task Team. Of course, there is provision for arbitration in the contract with Global Funds, and where there is some disagreement, one can ask for it.


Newswatch: What would become of the recommendation of the OIG that the Global Funds should immediately terminate YGC as principal recipient?

Chukwu: It has already taken effect, because once the OIG reports indicted any of these groups, they stopped sending funds to them. So, what we are doing rather than make the country suffer is that, we will nominate other principal recipients which have been doing well to Global Fund to continue the projects the indicted ones started because the projects are for Nigerians.


Newswatch: Is there no punishment for any group that mismanages funds? We understand the ICPC is also investigating the matter.

Chukwu: It is a government institution, and we have made a case. That is the idea of even strengthening the CCM. Let’s look at NACA which is a government agency for instance. I don’t want to pre-empt the findings of the Task Team, but if we eventually agree with the report of OIG, can you give us a time line to recover the money? However, if they now say they have an issue, then there are ways to look into the issue because for a government agency, it’s straight forward and that is why we are involving the accountant general.

We will evolve a mechanism of looking into it.  We can alert  either the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, or the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, if need be. In the case of the NGOs, it’s a bit trickier. But again, at the end, we can also make any recommendation to the EFCC.

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