Global Fund will provide $98 million to fight malaria, tuberculosis and AIDs from 2018 to 2020, an official said on Thursday, with the donor seemingly banking on improved oversight to prevent alleged government fraud and nepotism it described as recently as March.
The funding comes as the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) investigates Global Fund’s most recent claims of fraud involving travel expenses for staff who remain employed by the country’s malaria center.
Ieng Mouly, head of the Geneva-based fund’s country coordinating committee and the government’s National AIDS Authority, confirmed the $98 million total and said the funding represented a decrease from the previous funding cycle total of about $120 million.
“The Global Fund has less money than before,” he said, and labeled the recent allegations of corruption a “small thing.”
About $48 million would be routed through the U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which took over management of Global Fund’s malaria funding after a 2013 graft scandal. That money would go to the governmental National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (CNM), according to Mr. Mouly, while the remaining $50 million would go directly to the Finance Ministry.
Representatives for the Geneva-based donor did not respond to requests for comment. But the group has a history of butting heads with the government over graft.
A 2013 Global Fund investigation uncovered a far-reaching network of Health Ministry corruption involved in the procurement of mosquito nets, in which the CNM’s former director and one of its deputy directors received more than $410,000 in kickbacks to secure contracts for mosquito net suppliers.
Global Fund said the money was repaid but the government declined to prosecute the officials involved, with ACU Chairman Om Yentieng going so far as to claim the fund’s investigation violated the officials’ human rights.
The fund subsequently routed its malaria donations through UNOPS, the operational arm of the U.N., which was supposed to monitor implementation by CNM.
Global Fund and CNM also had an extended standoff in the aftermath of a scandal over travel expenses, with CNM refusing to comply with new risk mitigation or perform antimalarial work in the latter half of 2015.
A March report by Global Fund uncovered fresh cases of fraud by 21 CNM staff, who it said double-billed donors for $3,940 worth of travel expenses with overlapping trips, all approved by the center’s director, Huy Rekol. In some cases, the amount of travel allegedly exceeded the days in a month.
Senior members of the center, including two unnamed deputy directors, hired relatives in spite of their lack of qualifications, or in one case, any work experience whatsoever, according to the report. Other relatives were brought on as volunteers and earned income entirely from per diem payments stemming from field missions.
When Global Fund instituted spot checks during the first half of last year, it declined to refund almost $65,000 worth of per diem requests, or over three-quarters of the requests, because the travel could not be verified or could only be verified with “adverse findings.”
Reached on Thursday, Mr. Rekol denied the allegations.
“I don’t know what you refer to, the word corruption, because I don’t know what it means,” he said. “This is just someone [who] complains to us. But it is not true.”
What appeared to be overlapping trips that produced the double-billing actually included junkets that had been canceled and were only billed to one donor, according to Mr. Rekol. Other branches of the government did full-time hiring for CNM, he said, while UNOPS handled the hiring of contractors.
“I don’t know [why] they like to complain,” he said of Global Fund, adding that officials involved in the alleged fraud remained employed while what he said was an ongoing investigation continued.
Mr. Yentieng of the ACU said that its own investigation into Global Fund’s allegations was underway but could not provide a timeline for its completion.
Global Fund said in the March report that it would demand that the funds be returned and would lay out a plan to increase oversight of travel expenses by the UNOPS as well as professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has monitored the donor’s Cambodian grants since 2015.
In spite of the alleged fraud, Cambodia recorded just one Malaria death last year as the number of total cases dropped by more than half, according to CNM statistics.
“Now we are working hard,” Mr. Rekol said. “Every day, we are working hard.”
(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony)
© 2017, Ben Paviour. All rights reserved.