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Gowon Centre Is Most Guilty

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Fatai Bello, executive secretary, Country Co-ordinating Mechanism, CCM, Nigeria, The Global Fund, speaks to Newswatch on the activities of the Fund in Nigeria. Excerpts:

Newswatch: What informed the meeting in Enugu by the Country Co-ordinating Mechanism, CCM, and fund recipients in the country? Was it to review the OIG findings?

Bello: What we went for in Enugu is our annual retreat. It was not to review the OIG reports. Global Fund and CCM are all about processes, and when the preliminary reports are released, the OIG and the Global Fund would allow countries to respond. We have an oversight committee to look at the report, invite the recipients to hear their own position and respond to the report.

 It was after the preliminary report that the final report came out. If you look at the preliminary report, there were six organistions, but by the time they looked at our responses and looked more closely at the books, they freed three of them, and I’m happy to tell you that among the organistions that were freed are the National Malaria Control Programme, NMCP, Society for Family Health, SFH, and Association of Reproductive and Family Health, ARFH. Interestingly, SFH that was supposed to refund $1,333, [an equivalence of about N200, 000.00], used the money for one of CCM’s retreat because as at that time, Global Fund was not giving CCM money for its running, including staff salary. It was after the final report that three organisations were indicted: Yakubu Gowon Centre, YGC, NACA, Christian Health Association of Nigeria, CHAN. CHAN was working on Tuberculosis, NACA on HIV and YGC on both HIV and Malaria.


Newswatch: Incidentally the offence of the YGC was most highlighted.

 Bello: No, I don’t think so. If  you look at the disbursement to the YGC and what they were indicted for, it’s just about 2.6 percent of the total disbursement since 2003, because it was  the only and the first principal recipient at that stage when nobody knew the rules.


Newswatch: And they misused the money given to them, by diverting it to foreign exchange business?

Bello: Even the foreign exchange transaction does not mean the money was lost. But the transaction made the YGC’s issue so serious, because the foreign exchange business was treated as an offence or in quote, “laundering.” And if they look at it as laundering, and it is clearly stated that they should not launder the money, automatically, they have committed double unpardonable offences. That is, they have misappropriated money and also lodged money in wrong accounts.

However, the percentage CHAN is accused of is about 10 percent, which is relatively higher, while that of NACA is 0.67 percent. So, when you look at the percentage computation that we did, Nigeria’s over all percentage went to 1.55 percent. That is all the three and the total grant that came to the country. The Global Funds, based on other countries they visited, have an average loss of five percent. So, Nigeria is far below average which means we did not do too badly if you look at the computation.


Newswatch: So, the Yakubu Gowon Centre stands barred from further access to the grants from Global Funds, according to the report?

Bello: Yes, they have been barred since, and the management of the centre has agreed to be barred. Even CHAN has been barred too. What saved the grant was that immediately we knew they were having challenges in meeting targets and coping, we quickly appointed another principal recipient, Association of Reproductive and Family Health, ARFH, to take over TB, because they were one of the best performing organisations in the whole world, rated by Global Funds. So, since CHAN was having problems and we did not want to lose the programme, we let them take over. However, NACA is working, but has to refund the said amount.

We barred CHAN because if we did not do that, the Global Funds would have cancelled the grant since they were the only recipient in the country. In Malaria, when YGC was barred, we quickly decided to share the responsibility between NMCP and SFH. If it was only the YGC that was the principal recipient, it would have been difficult for us.


Newswatch: How would you make the barred organisations to refund the money?

Bello: We all see everyday what happens in this country with different organisations and parastatals invited by the National Assembly or by the EFCC or ICPC. You can see that the days of “let me do it and get away” is gradually coming to an end because the country has systems in place that will look at what you are doing. Global Fund’ money is not for an individual, but for the country.

That is why when you have such money in trust; you are also supposed to be trustworthy. As such, when the minister of health became the chairman of CCM, one of the first steps he took was to put up a Recovery Task Team to recover the money. The Task team was inaugurated on 3rd of February, this year by the minister. In the team, we also have the accountant general of the federation, to let you see that the system is trying to key into government established system of funds tracking. We also have a former chairman of the CCM, Dr Jerome Mafeni, and the director for Legal services in the Ministry of Health on the team. I am the secretary of the team. The common recurring statements from most of the principal recipients is the fact that the money they are asked to refund is not supposed to be that much because some of the receipts that the Global Funds looked at were genuine but they were rejected. What happened was that sometimes they looked at a receipt and call the phone number, and if , may be the person has lost the line and so did not pick, they would say the receipt is invalid, and so that amount is unsupported.


Newswatch: Did you consider the option of inviting the EFCC and the ICPC into it?

Bello: Those are the last stage of it. By the time we do our own review, and come to a conclusion on the amount, the next thing would be how are they going to pay the money? If they give us the plan for refunding and we see it is not acceptable, we’d disagree and give them our terms. But if they are not even interested, as we are facing with the YGC, it’s a problem. When we invited them, NACA, others came, but the YGC was a little bit reluctant and they eventually sent junior officers to us instead of the management team.

Let us be honest, the person of General Yakubu Gowon has earned his respect and good name. Global Funds and CCM are aware of this. At a stage, I had to take Global Funds to him to let them know the man is highly respected and wouldn’t have gotten himself entangled in the mess. But he does not do the work himself. Other people do it.

So, we gave them another opportunity. But we think they are already disenchanted with the whole Global Funds as they prefer arbitration. And if they prefer arbitration, there is nothing else we can do, but we know the implication. If the country cannot control its organisations, Global Funds can decide to even blacklist the country.


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