Fortunately, foreign donors often demand, at least, the minimum standard of accountability that is applicable in their home countries in the management of the funds donated, but this standard is seldom met by the managers of the funds in Nigeria.
LACK of transparency and official corruption is so endemic in the system that there seems to be no holds barred to misappropriation of public funds, including those earmarked for the sick by donor agencies. Several millions of naira set aside to help the poor and the sick, often end up in the pockets of a few privileged but wicked public servants. This tendency is not restricted to the HIV/AIDS funds alone but is applicable to other donor agencies-co-funded developmental initiatives. And the foreign donors are already complaining.
RECENTLY, the Co-coordinator of Olabisi Onabanjo University Anti-retroviral Centre, Ogun State, Professor Phillips Olatunji, lamented the dearth of testing kits for screening of people and blood samples in many centres across the land. The kits, which are usually supplied by government, were said to be coming in quantities that are out-stripped by demands. The implication is that not every one that desires to be screened or should be screened will have access to the service both at the hospital and community levels. Professor Olatunji, has therefore, suggested that in order to ensure that HIV pandemic does not get out of hand; Nigeria should prepare to take over the care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS. The position of the academic is very clear and understandable in the light of recent events. Since the disease is highly infectious and funding from donor agencies appears to be drying up, the government must take over the responsibility of supporting and caring for people living with HIV/AIDS.
ON the surface, there is a funding gap for care and treatment of HIV/AIDS which may lead to the incorrect conclusion capable of being misconstrued that the donor agencies have reduced their support to HIV/AIDS victims in Nigeria. Yet, it is being strongly alleged in some informed quarters that with the level of support given by the donor agencies to HIV treatment and care in Nigeria, the question of paucity of testing kits ought not to arise at this point in time. In plain language, the seeming funding gap is actually attributable to corruption.
THERE is this penchant by public officials not to spend public funds in a transparent manner for the good of the citizenry. That has always accounted for the gap between the potential, the budget and actual performance in the country.. And this may continue for a long while, unless the society as a whole re-embraces positive values, the people adopt the culture of asking questions and holding their leaders accountable.
PROFESSOR Olatunji may be right in advocating that Nigeria takes its destiny into its own hands by making more local budgetary provisions aside the usual counterpart funding for the care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS because the donor agencies may not always be available. However, this call, even if heeded, will not in itself solve the problem that prompted the don’s advocacy in the first place. The reason is that the real challenge is not paucity of funds per se but lack of judicious, efficient and transparent use of the available funds solely for the purpose they were meant. In other words, irrespective of the funding sources, whether local or foreign, public officers who see special fund allocations to solve problems in critical areas of the economy as an opportunity to help themselves will still tamper with the monies for their personal use.
THOUGH there are indications that the donor agencies may soon have a re-think over the levels of support they will be willing to give Nigeria to help its developmental initiatives, over corruption and transparency concerns, however as at date, they have lived up to their promises and commitments to Nigeria. And many of them are indeed willing to review their commitments upwards given an improved accountability structure.
RECENTLY there was a report containing an alleged disquiet of the donor agencies and the diplomatic community over the country’s inability to rein in official corruption. There was even a clear warning in the report that Nigeria will forfeit a great deal of overseas aids if it does not take steps to tighten the loose ends. The donors reportedly broke their silence over the matter because the situation was getting worse by the day while the National Assembly, the institution, which should ordinarily be in the forefront of bringing sanity to the system, remained largely dysfunctional.
IN reality, only very few politicians whether in the executive or the legislative branch are genuinely interested in fighting corruption. Yet, to effectively combat corruption and ensure budgetary allocations of funds, whether of local or foreign sources, are used for public good, a very strong political will that is more or less collective is required. That is currently lacking, and it is responsible for the unhealthy state of affair in the spending of public funds.
IN this era of global economic recession, when every reasonable country tries to protect the integrity of its revenue flow, it would be shameful and unacceptable for Nigeria to lose foreign inflow of aid because of lack of transparency and official corruption. The alleged mismanagement of funds donated by foreign governments and agencies, including the one at issue, HIV/AID funds, should therefore be investigated and the culprits punished. Government should also endeavour to block all loopholes that counter transparency in the use of donor agencies’ funds. Lack of transparency in public transactions, especially where donor agencies’ funds are involved, has great but avoidable cost that manifests in smeared image and discounted good will, both of which Nigeria can ill-afford at this point in time.