Govt to investigate Global Fund multimillion-dollar fraud findings

… fearful organisation will threaten to withhold grants

Government will soon launch an investigation into findings of a multimillion-dollar fraud in its malaria

Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton
Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton

programme, which is funded by the Global Fund International Organisation.
Following complaints of mass irregularities in the Global Fund malaria grant in Guyana, the international organisation commenced an investigation into the matter, covering the period January 1, 2013 to June 30, 2015.
According to the findings of the investigation, there were complaints of fabricated data in relation to the distribution of bed nets, malaria surveillance activities and associated fraudulent expenditures, including ‘per diems’ and fuel for programmatic work that allegedly did not take place.
Reports indicate that these irregularities affected expenditures totalling US$72,973 which the organisation will likely seek to recover.
The irregularities were facilitated by the inadequate management of the Global Fund malaria programme by the Vector Control Services (VCS) of the Public Health Ministry, which included poor record-keeping and a failure to respond to Global Fund Secretariat Management Actions.
During the period under investigation, Dr Reyaud Rahman was the Director of the VCS. He resigned in December 2015.

Taking action
With an allegation of corruption and fraud of such magnitude being levied against the Government, Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton said an investigation will be launched as soon as possible in order to determine the best course of action to be taken.
Since the possibility is high Government that will be required to pay back the recoverable monies, Dr Norton said an independent investigation into the findings in the Global Fund report is necessary to confirm the validity of the information.
“The Global Fund is probably asking for a repayment or a refunding, and we would not go about doing so without investigating and see what measures we need to take… We will take whatever measures and the corrective actions will be taken,” he explained.
He noted too that the investigations will determine whether or not any actions should be taken against culpable individuals.
Asked if the international organisation has threatened to withhold untouched funds or prohibit further funding until the matter is resolved, the Health Minister responded in the negative; however, he noted that nothing is preventing them from taking such a route.
“While I hope this is not the case, it certainly stands to reason that such actions might very well be taken,” he stated.
Moreover, Dr Norton said he plans to arrange a meeting with the local representatives of the organisation to further discuss the matter.

Dr Norton posited that it will be awfully burdensome if Government is mandated to reimburse Global Fund of the millions of dollars allegedly swindled under the malaria programme.
Even more disadvantageous, he said, is the likelihood of Guyana becoming blacklisted from receiving further funding.
“At this point in time, paying any debt of that nature would certainly not be in the best interest of the economy of the country. We cannot afford to do that. It is unfortunate that this had to happen, we are definitely in need of such funding and we are just hoping that this will not affect us in the future to access such funding,” he expressed.
Nonetheless, the Minister noted that it was quite odd that the Global Fund chose only now to launch the investigation.
“Why would Global Fund wait five years after they started giving us access to funds before they started checking on accountability…” he pondered.

Inflated figures
According to the report, employees of the Global Fund malaria programme, VSC, and the Health Ministry were interviewed in relation to the complaints of irregularities.
The report said the investigation found evidence that VCS employees inflated the number of long-lasting insecticide impregnated mosquito nets (bed nets) reported as distributed and had fabricated underlying bed net distribution documents to support the inflated figures.
Additionally, the report said VCS employees also fabricated documentation for another surveillance activity relating to the operation of malaria committees.
The report further stated that two VCS malaria supervisors responsible for distributing bed nets in the regions confessed that they had inflated bed net distribution figures in the Semester Reports and that they had fabricated underlying documentation to support the figures.
The two individuals claimed that an administrative employee had instructed them to inflate the figures.
However, when interviewed, the VCS administrative employee denied passing instructions for the figures to be inflated.
The report also stated that the former VCS Director claimed he never gave instructions to inflate the figures or fabricate the documents.
The report noted that there was an analysis of over 46,000 individual names and signatures on the bed net distribution activity sheets to assess if the activity sheets contained indicators that bed nets had not been distributed to beneficiaries, and upon completion of this exercise, it found that it could not obtain reasonable assurance that 20,981 bed nets, which represents 45.2 per cent of the total reviewed, had been delivered to beneficiaries on the basis of anomalies found in the bed net distribution activity sheets.
This figure did not include bed nets where it appeared that a single individual, such as a community health worker, mining camp leader or a family member, had signed legitimately on behalf of a group of individuals.
The investigation also found that the average incidence of signature anomalies across the regions and periods under review was similar, indicating that the fabrication of underlying bed net distribution documentation was systematic.