Global Fund: Transparency in Action

February 1, 2011
by John Fawcett, Legislative Director

Transparency is a crucial principle in effective foreign aid. Last week we learned what can happen when transparency about global health funding can be used to distort the bigger picture.

The Associated Press, drawing on publicly available reports from the Global Fund’s own Office of Inspector General, wrote a sensationalist story about corruption in some Global Fund grants. Although the article focused on misuse of funds in just 4 of 145 countries where the Global Fund operates, and on the misuse of $34 million out of $13 billion, the story had the tone of a major breaking scandal.

In fact, this is exactly how it’s supposed to work. The Global Fund aggressively investigated suspected cases of mismanaged funding, took corrective action (including the suspension and termination of grants), demanded the return of stolen money, aided criminal investigations launched by the authorities, and publicly reported these actions on its web site.

How should donor governments respond? By rewarding the Global Fund for its transparency — not punishing it.

Many commentators immediately grasped this important point. Sarah Bosley, in a thoughtful analysis on her widely-read global health blog, noted that the story “should have been a storm in a teacup.” In an interview on Canadian television, former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis praised the Fund, saying: “What distinguishes the Global Fund from others is whenever they get a whiff of scandal they go after it no holds barred and they cut off the money.”

As product(RED) co-founder Bobby Shriver stated in his defense of the Fund’s transparency, “we all know that the idea of zero corruption is a naïve, impossible standard.” The point is not to excuse corruption, but to minimize the risk of it occurring and move aggressively when it does.  The Global Fund is doing both, better than any other global health funding agency, and should continue to earn the support and confidence of its donors.

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