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Enabling national audit institutions to audit GF grants

BACKUP Health and Aidspan pave the way for Supreme Audit Institutions to take over from private accounting firms

Staff of supreme national auditing institutions at Ghana roundtable meeting

Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa contract private accounting firms to audit GFATM grants rather than putting their own Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) in charge. This is a missed opportunity for enhancing country ownership and it costs scarce grant resources. BACKUP Health and Aidspan entered into a grant agreement to change this situation.

A study conducted by BACKUP Health and the non-profit organisation Aidspan in 2017/2018 showed that only eight of the African countries receiving grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) use their own national Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) to audit them. Instead, most countries hire international private accounting firms to conduct these audits. To pay for this service, they use grant resources – and auditing does not come cheap. 

The study also showed that where SAIs conducted GFATM grant audits they only looked at financial aspects and not at programmatic ones such as adherence to GF processes and attainment of indicators. The reasons given for this low involvement included limited human capacities and lack of knowledge concerning GFATM procedures. BACKUP Health and Aidspan decided that this situation could and should be changed.

Partners who share a mission

BACKUP Health is a global GIZ programme that provides technical assistance to the GFATM and its grant recipients so that national institutions are strengthened in their fight against the three diseases and use GFATM grant resources efficiently. Aidspan is a non-profit organisation based in Kenya that works as an effective watchdog of the Global Fund at global and country levels by providing information, critical analysis and commentary on developments at the Fund. BACKUP Health and Aidspan are partners in their mission to support the GFATM in attaining its objectives in a transparent and efficient manner. This is why, in December 2018, they entered into a grant agreement with the goal to enable SAIs in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Togo to take charge of all aspects of GF grant auditing.

Why national auditing of GFATM grants matters

Auditing GFATM grants is one major building block of the GFATM’s risk management as it increases accountability, transparency and efficiency of grants. SAIs are government entities whose external audit role is established by a country’s constitution, endowing them with the official mandate to oversee public expenditures. Accordingly, each SAI is a central element of its country’s accountability chain and should therefore play a role in the auditing of GFATM grants. 

Through their involvement in GFATM grant audits SAIs could potentially increase countries’ ownership for GFATM processes and build countries’ capacities in engaging with international financing institutions and responsibly managing international grants. Last but not least the use of SAIs for grant auditing can save grant resources needed for the fight against HIV, TB and Malaria.

Developing the capacities of SAIs

In Rwanda, the SAI team visits a health facility

Depending on each of the eight SAIs’ needs and their previous involvement in auditing GFATM grants, Aidspan designed country-specific capacity development measures. First, it assessed and documented the country-specific institutional auditing arrangements. Next, Aidspan developed a toolkit on Global Fund Financial and Programmatic Audits procedures. The toolkit was then used for training workshops held in each of the participating countries, including field visits to health facilities. According to a participant of the training in Sierra Leone, ‘The training was wonderful and timely. Come November, we will include GF in our annual audit plan.’

In addition, Aidspan organised roundtables for SAI officials from participating countries which enhanced their sense of ownership and responsibility for the proper use of GFATM grants. At the Ghana roundtable, they released a joint declaration stating that ‘No lives should be lost due to SAIs’ failure to execute their mandate of safeguarding public resources.’ 

Concrete results can already be seen

Concrete results of the capacity development measures can already be seen in all participating countries: SAI Kenya, SAI Rwanda and SAI Ghana have started to conduct programmatic audits of GFATM Grants, SAI Sierra Leone is planning a compliance audit of the malaria grant in 2020 and SAI Burkina Faso, SAI Malawi and SAI Togo plan to conduct special audits of GFATM grants in 2020. 

As a consequence of the roundtable meetings, a network of SAI peers has formed: SAI Malawi, for example, is now receiving hands-on training from SAI Kenya, and the mutual understanding between different stakeholders involved in the audit process has markedly increased.

BACKUP Health and Aidspan are encouraged by the positive feedback they received from participating countries and see a growing role for SAIs in GFATM auditing. The GFATM Inspector General recently expressed his concern about the lack of an accountability mechanism for governments’ commitment to contribute domestic funding for services financed through a GFATM grant. Who would be better placed than SAIs to fill this gap? Enabling SAI to take on this task is one of several opportunities for future collaboration that BACKUP Health and Aidspan are currently considering.

Leonie Kienzle, May 2020


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