An international organisation that funds projects in the health sector worldwide, Global Funds, has indicted the management of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), for incompetence and mismanagement of grants for the fight against HIV/AIDS, forcing it to suspend further grants to the country. This was revealed in a report by the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR on Sunday.
According to the report, GF had committed more than $1.4 billion to the fight against HIV/AIDs, Malaria and Tuberculosis in Nigeria since 2003, with over $800 million disbursed between 2012 and 2016. Of the $1.4 billion, HIV/ AIDS had committed to it the sum of $545m, malaria $708m and TB $155m. The Fund is now questioning the spending of millions of dollars particularly meant for the HIV/AIDS campaign in Nigeria.
Out of about 3.4 million Nigerians said to be living with the AIDS, only 750,000 are able to access anti-retroviral therapy due to insufficient funds. Funds for the HIV/ AIDs campaign have come mainly from donor agencies, with Global Fund as the largest contributor. The Nigerian government contributes less than 10 percent of the funds to combat HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS campaign funds in Nigeria are managed by NACA, which selects a wide range of sub-recipients, including the Federal Ministry of Health’s Department of Planning, Research and Statistics, DPRS, which also became a focus of the Global Fund investigation. Global Funds said that its investigators found “extensive evidence of systematic embezzlement of program funds, fraudulent practices and collusion by DPRS staff and consultants assigned to the Global Fund-financed program.”
It added: “The OIG found some form of irregularity or fraud in most vouchers reviewed (from 2010 to 2014). Seven of the ten staff and three consultants assigned to the program were involved or linked to the misappropriation of funds.” The Fund said further that Nigeria officials creamed off money to fight diseases in the country by misrepresenting or inflating the amounts paid to hotel venues for meeting facilities and rooms, inflating or falsifying receipts related to allowances, transportation, fuel and stationery expenses and claiming expenditures for travel not taken.
In some cases, it stated, “DPRS staff colluded with and received kickbacks from hotels and suppliers” and inflated “the number of attendees at a meeting or training or its duration.” The audit report identified several weaknesses in the procurement and supply processes of NACA which have encouraged fraudulent practices among its officials. Among other charges against the management of NACA include paying $20 million to suppliers without confirmation of delivery. “The OIG identified payments amounting to US$20 million made to a procurement agent without confirmation of services rendered or goods delivered. Other weaknesses noted in procurement included the failure to competitively tender several contracts that met the required thresholds.
The total value of such contracts reviewed in the audit is approximately US$5 million,” the Fund alleged. Also a difference of $3.7 million was discovered in the ART drug inventory of NACA with the management unable to give convincing evidence for the shortfall. Although the NACA management stated that the drugs were domiciled in a facility at a different location, the investigators said adequate evidence was not given to support the claim. Non-compliance with official procurement policies has led to situations where drugs and other health commodities were out of stock for upwards of eight months.
NACA is also accused of poor inventory management which led to the expiration of HIV commodities worth $5.4 million in the last two years alone. Before announcing the suspension of further grants to Nigeria, Global Fund had reportedly written the presidency on the situation in NACA and advised government to immediately look into it.
According to the report, the ineffectiveness of NACA in managing the HIV/AIDS funds, which has led to suspension of further grants to it, has now compelled the Global Fund to look towards channeling the funds directly to the states and local governments. It is currently piloting a state level approach to the campaign in Nigeria, starting early this year. When reached to comment on the development. NACA’s Communications Officer, Toyin Aderibigbe, said that Global Fund had not suspended the grant to Nigeria but had only halted its disbursement pending the time the investigation would be concluded and the issues raised resolved.