Responses by Global Fund Chair and Others to "Auditing the Auditor"

1. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
20 Jun 2011

Responses by Global Fund Chair and Others to "Auditing the Auditor"

Editor's note: On 24 May 2011, in GFO 147, we ran a Commentary entitled "Auditing the Auditor" which focused primarily on the work of the Global Fund's Office of the Inspector General (OIG). We invited readers to submit "letters to the editor" with responses to the article. We received five letters from principal recipients, which we reproduced in GFO 148.

We then invited readers to submit further letters by 17 June. We received three such letters, reproduced below. One is from the Chair of the Global Fund Board, one is from the Minister of Health of Rwanda, and one is from a working group of the India CCM.

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Letter from Martin Dinham, Chair of The Global Fund Board, on behalf of the Global Fund

Your commentary, "Auditing the Auditor" in issue 147, and the subsequent letters by organisations and Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCMs), identified some important issues.

As a new Chair of The Global Fund Board, I come to these issues with fresh eyes. I see one of the greatest strengths of The Global Fund to be its commitment to ensuring its funds reach the intended destinations and beneficiaries. It is an international leader in this respect. At the same time, The Global Fund is and will remain a learning organisation, and we will always value feed-back and constructive criticism so that we can improve our systems and processes. Where we can improve, we will strive to do so. While we may not agree with all aspects of the GFO's analysis and may question some of the descriptions of specific issues or incidents, we respect the constructive approach that both GFO and those who wrote the subsequent letters have taken, and we value this attempt to bring to light important issues and to engage in a discussion. Such feedback will certainly assist our thinking as we further develop the fiduciary control functions of The Global Fund and our efforts to live up to our standards of transparency while not hurting the reputations of the innocent.

The Global Fund has a fundamental responsibility towards both its donors and its ultimate beneficiaries - the millions of people who are dependent on our resources to stay alive or avoid infections - to make sure every dollar is spent properly, in furtherance of grant programs, and as efficiently as possible. Leniency towards waste and misuse will ultimately hurt everyone. It will also lead to loss of donor confidence. By necessity, uncovering misuse of resources is not a pleasant undertaking, and it is impossible to do such work thoroughly and properly without upsetting some people and causing a defensive reaction. The focus of our control efforts has been to uncover what in many instances have been deeply troubling, deliberate attempts at defrauding The Global Fund of millions of dollars. Such diversion ultimately harms this institution and those whose lives it was created to save. When money is stolen, patients and programs suffer, and lives are put at greater risk. We take these issues extremely seriously.

It is equally important that we retain a spirit of true partnership and mutual respect with our recipients, and that we meet all implementers of Global Fund grants with an assumption of good will and dedication to their mission. When we have not met our obligations in this regard, we will acknowledge it and improve.

We acknowledge too that the significant workload of the Office of the Inspector General has contributed in some instances to an unfortunate delay in the period between an audit or investigation being completed in country and the publication of a final report. Delays are also caused by poor record keeping of some recipients, a lack of cooperation, in some instances, with audits and investigations, and other administrative and due process obligations that must be completed before a report is finalised. Nonetheless, we are examining this issue closely and will be doing all in our power to shorten this period in future.

Since Mphu Ramatlapeng and I took up our positions, respectively, as Vice-Chair and Chair of The Global Fund Board, we have at the request of the Board begun work with the Office of the Inspector General and the Secretariat to produce a protocol for communications. This protocol will set up clear procedures for how we maintain confidentiality; avoid premature dissemination of investigation and audit details and reputational damage to subjects of investigations and audits before such work is finalised; and best protect the reputation of The Global Fund when such reports are published, while retaining the organisation's commitment to transparency and a fully independent Office of the Inspector General.

The Board, the Inspector General and the Secretariat of The Global Fund constantly strive to provide the largest resources possible to countries' efforts to save lives and drive back the three pandemics and to ensure that these resources are invested in an efficient and effective manner. We welcome GFO's comments and constructive criticism as they help us in this mission.

Martin Dinham, London, England

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Letter from Dr Agnes Binagwaho, Minister of Health, Rwanda

Firstly, I would like to give a word of thanks to a few members of the OIG team who visited us in 2010 and who displayed a high level of professionalism when interacting with the Rwandan teams. However, I would like to share my disapproval of the behaviour of the other members of the OIG team who were less than appropriate and very unprofessional at times during their interaction with our teams - because sharing this may help shape the way audits are performed by the OIG teams in the near future.

In Rwanda, while it is true that we are in a process to build the capacity of our accountants, the approach used by some OIG team members was undesirable and not called for. They undermined our accountants, behaved unpleasantly and even in an insulting manner in certain instances. Though the Team Leader stressed the importance of professionalism, respect and collaboration during the audit exercise, these team members diverted from their core mission and objectives and, instead, appeared to play a police rather than an auditing role. Despite being proven wrong on some of the claims they made, they continued repeating the same statements without taking into account answers and clarifications provided to them.

The attitude of some members of the OIG team did not uphold the human right for respect. They reminded us of how power can be abused. These experts should have been more respectful. It was as if their motivation was to find the flaws and see us fail the audit. Surprisingly, the team members I am referring to never thought about apologizing for their inappropriate conduct. However, I recognize that the Team Leader was continuously keen on trying to ensure an atmosphere of respect and that a few members of the OIG team acted in a professional and courteous manner; it is just a pity that, though key, they were a minority in terms of numbers.

An audit should be done with a view to promote capacity building rather than with an objective to prove you wrong. Its basis should be rooted in good practices and lessons learnt for better performance. Until everyone involved in these audits understands their objectives and the importance of professionalism in conducting them, the OIG will have to monitor the behaviours of his teams, including the subcontracted ones, as we hear unacceptable stories from countries from the Southern constituency. This is critical, as we want to continue seeing the OIG's audits as opportunities to learn about our strengths and weaknesses and improve the management of disease programs.

Agnes Binagwaho, Kigali, Rwanda

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Letter from the working group that was set up by the India CCM to look into alleged grant mismanagement

In January 2010, the India CCM formed a working group to investigate persistent whistleblower allegations of financial mismanagement by a sub-recipient of Rounds 4 and 6 funds. This SR was a national body representing PLHIV across India. Over a three-month period, the working group concluded that the allegations were not simply the result of misunderstandings. Accordingly, it recommended that an independent audit of this SR and several of its SSRs be conducted. The CCM endorsed this in May 2010. As funds were not available within the CCM, the Global Fund Secretariat agreed to allow the principal recipient to use grant funds to support the audit. Terms of Reference were drawn up by the CCM, shared with the Secretariat and agreed upon.

The Secretariat then had bilateral discussions with the OIG, which to our surprise did not result in any concrete support for the CCM to continue this audit as part of its oversight role. Instead, the CCM was ordered by the OIG to stop the audit; the OIG said bluntly that it would take over. This was resisted by the CCM as it would further delay the process and stop it from being country-led. It was finally agreed that the CCM audit should proceed, and that its report could then be used by the OIG.

The audit, conducted by an audit firm of global repute, started in early August 2010 and the final report was ready in early October. The OIG insisted it owned the report (because the Global Fund had financed it) and that the report could not be circulated except to the working group of the CCM. Eventually the report was presented to a special CCM meeting in late October. Pursuant to instructions from the Fund, the minutes of that meeting have never been made public and nothing from the audit report has been released, despite the undisputed needs of the PLHIV networks for facts and information so that people could act on the capacity and managerial issues identified. The Global Fund Secretariat and the OIG were adamant that these documents should remain restricted in case any release of information prejudiced further investigation by the OIG and recovery by the Fund of possible mismanaged funds. Unfortunately, the Secretariat was unable and unwilling to protest to the OIG on behalf of the CCM, who clearly and frequently said that the networks were beginning to fall apart as more allegations were being thrown around. Furthermore, some SSRs were suffering financially as funds were not being released, causing them to fear they were being victimized for being whistleblowers.

Over the months, CCM-India's clear analysis of the situation in the country and of the need to mitigate the problem with some redacted information fell on deaf ears, as did requests by the CCM for an urgent meeting with the OIG and the Secretariat. The OIG remained remote and intransigent, saying that nothing was to be released and that they would move forward themselves.

Finally, on 5 April 2011, the OIG made a draft verbal presentation to the CCM about is own investigation. Despite the OIG's earlier criticisms of the CCM audit, the OIG's findings were, in fact, very similar. The OIG promised that its final report would be provided in 4-6 weeks, and that this could probably be made public.

In the eight weeks since then, nothing has been made available to the CCM, and the networks are in an even worse shape and are still in ignorance of the results of either investigation. They are unable to move forward and in-fighting within them has got worse.

This sorry tale highlights several problems: the unresolved contradictions between strong country-owned oversight and a remote external OIG; the lack of clear and established processes and channels of communication for the CCM to work with the OIG; the consequent challenges the Secretariat faces in articulating country concerns and priorities; the failure of the OIG to consider and react to the situation in-country, focusing only on recovery of potentially mismanaged funds to the detriment of national stakeholders and beneficiaries; and the India CCM's lack to date of an effective way to deal with whistleblowers.

None of these problems are insoluble. Indeed we hope that by analyzing the situation described here, the systemic challenges identified can be acted upon quickly to improve the operational effectiveness of the OIG, Secretariat and CCMs everywhere; and that investigations of alleged misdeeds and their resolution can be speeded up, thereby minimizing the inevitable dislocation and disruptions these pose to ongoing projects.

CCM Working Group, Delhi, India


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