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March 08, 2004

Accountability and Effectiveness

I've often asked some of the same questions that are right now being asked in Zambia.

Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa has had an uneasy relationship with civil society from the beginning of his term in office. However, matters worsened recently when he accused AIDS activists of monopolising the funds provided by donors to fight the pandemic.

Mwanawasa's accusations came hot on the heels of a similarly scathing attack by the Minister of Community and Social welfare, Marina Nsingo. She threatened to deregister the non-governmental organisations (NGO's) which have ”mushroomed” over the past decade, many purporting to work for poverty alleviation and with AIDS-related issues.

”People have gotten into the habit of hatching NGO's everywhere, saying they are doing poverty alleviation, HIV/AIDS. But what have they done? Or what are they doing? Because the problems do not seem to be going away,” said Nsingo.

At present, there are about 600 NGO's in Zambia. Over 450 of these work in rural communities, and 150 focus exclusively on HIV/AIDS.

Mwanawasa told a two-day AIDS conference attended by United Nations officials and cabinet ministers from across Southern Africa that most civil society groups were composed of family members who got donor funding under the guise of AIDS prevention programmes. (The conference took place from Mar. 4-5.)

He also lashed out at the United Nations for favouring civil society in the distribution of AIDS funds. The Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, Peter Piot, acknowledged that this trend ”could create confusion in the distribution of funds”.

Mwanawasa said governments had elected representatives who were subjected to closer scrutiny than civil society groups. ”Government can be called to account for funding. These NGO's just chew the money and carry on (with) business as usual: no-one asks them anything,” he told delegates.

Of course, part of the reason for the questioning of the NGOs is the simple threat of the organizations as activists--as noted later in the article, there is a feeling that the NGOs act as unofficial opposition parties to the governments.

There really is a question, though, about the accountability of the NGOs for their operations and the effectiveness of the remedies that they are using for the problems of AIDs, hunger, and disease. As Marina Nsingo said, the problems do not seem to be going away.

Like hunger and poverty in the United States, I have far less problem with the money being spent on issues that I do with the incredible inefficiency of the relief plans. When millions of dollars are spent every year on solving problems, and those problems never seem to diminish.

In the United States, we prove our commitment to a problem by throwing more and more money at the problem. Instead, we should focus on the efficacy of our solutions--that is, are we spending the money in a way that will actually help solve the problem or are we spending money because it makes us feel better about our on sensitivity to that problem?

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at March 8, 2004 11:39 AM
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