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 Thursday 04 October 2007
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KENYA: Smaller AIDS organisations struggle for transparency

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Corrupt NGOs prevent genuinely needy people from getting help
NAIROBI, 4 June 2007 (PlusNews) - 'Fake', 'ghost' or 'briefcase' are some of the names used by the residents of the slum of Kawangware in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi when referring to the dodgy organisations purportedly created to improve their lives, but which usually end up lining the pockets of their founders.

Freda Njeri, also known as Mama Joseph, runs a self-help group for people living with HIV/AIDS in the heart of Kawangware. She has worked for several community-based organisations (CBOs) and says she has witnessed a lot of corruption.

"Some CBOs help less and keep large amounts of money for themselves," she said. Njeri, who is also HIV-positive, related how the founder of one group she worked for, Alice Kiragu (not her real name), wrote several proposals for large amounts of money intended to care for the group's more than 150 HIV-positive members.

"Alice received 350,000 shillings (US$5,000) from the government in 2001 and 520,000 shillings ($7,428) from Plan Kenya [a development agency] in 2004, but the members never saw the money," Mama Joseph said.

By the time the group's members finally realised the funds were being embezzled, Kiragu had left Kawangware. According to Mama Joseph, Kiragu has apparently started another group supporting HIV-positive people elsewhere in Nairobi.

"Misuse of funds, mismanagement, a lack of goodwill and transparency, false books of account have been common for a long time," said Lucky Ndugi, a social worker in another Kawangware-based CBO. "Too often we don't know how the money has been used."

As of December 2006, there were 73 self-help groups; six CBOs and at least five large NGOs registered in the Kawangware local government books.

Kenya's HIV prevalence is just under the six percent mark, but according to Hussein Bahola, an official at Kawangware's Riruta Health Centre's HIV testing facility, infection rates in the slum could be as high as 17 percent.

The poor cramped living conditions; high rates of alcohol and substance abuse; and widespread rates of tuberculosis and HIV in the area, make these smaller organisations a vital tool in efforts to respond to the epidemic, as their services range from counselling and food distribution to providing financial help and home-based care.

"Most of the people living positively with the virus do benefit from self-help groups, CBOs and NGOs in Kawangware," Ndugi pointed out.

The number of NGOs in Kenya continues to grow – today there are an estimated 4,800 in the country, compared with just 100 in 1990; 40 percent of all NGOs are based in Nairobi. In response to the mushrooming of these smaller groups, the government formed two umbrella bodies to regulate them: the National Council of NGOs and the public NGO coordination board.

But as the newly formed non-governmental organisations - funded by the government, international NGOs or individual benefactors – thrived, strict control measures and requirements for transparency and high management standards, lagged behind.

Poor checks from the outset

According to Aquilino Aciita, legal officer for the National Council of NGOs, abuses have continued unabated and new regulations need to be established. "We report around 20 cases of corruption within NGOs in Kenya each year, but at least 100 remain unreported."

''Most people see the NGO sector as a biashara [business]''
In 2003, when the government realised how widespread the abuses were, it halted funding for NGO and CBO activities.

"NACC [National Aids Control Council] withheld [funds] because it was not able to control where its money was going," Ndugi said. "It needed some time to set up a way of better controlling and making the system more transparent."

NACC was created in 1999 to coordinate all the country's HIV/AIDS activities, but has itself has been blighted by corruption allegations.

In 2005, a report by an efficiency monitoring unit (EMU) in the President's Office revealed widespread misuse of funds and embezzlement - NACC was accused of spending the bulk of donor funds on administrative and staff costs, while just six percent went to AIDS programmes.

A probe by the EMU into NGOs being funded by NACC found that at least half the money allocated was squandered and some of the NGOs had been purposely formed to benefit from the NACC funds.

Tighter controls

Following the EMU report, the government promised to set up checks against corruption and misuse of funds, including prosecuting NGO and NACC staff found guilty of fraud; monitoring performance contracts and strengthening the monitoring and evaluation system.

Most other donors have since come up with much more stringent criteria for prospective beneficiary NGOs before they can qualify for funding.

"Before it was easy; you just had to create a group, register, show your certificate, write a proposal and you would get the funds," said Timothy Kiarie, community worker for a CBO in Kawangware. "But donors have become strict these days - they want to know where their money goes."

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
Genuine NGOs are a lifeline for the people who live in Nairobi's impoverished, over-crowded slums
Today, detailed forms about a project must be submitted before any proposal is to be considered, and many NGO heads are being trained to properly account for funds and on the need for accountability.

To become a member of the Kenyan AIDS NGOs Consortium (KANCO), for example, NGOs are required to provide "a copy of the organisation's registration certificate, with authorisation from the relevant government ministry, two reference letters from specific officers, as well as the last progress report of the organisation," said Elizaphan Ogechi, KANCO resource centre assistant.

KANCO is a national membership network of NGOs, CBOs and faith based organisations involved in HIV/AIDS activities in Kenya and its executive director sits on the NACC board.

More controls or better controls?

Despite the new controls, many people argue that misuse of funds remains widespread and much more must be done to ensure money reaches its intended beneficiaries.

"There are still so many temptations. The main problem is poverty. Most people see the NGO sector as a biashara [business in Kiswahili]," Ndugi said. "Getting a post in a NGO is still mainly seen as a safe way of securing your income, even if you stay honest."

According to some NGO staff in Kawangware, even when funds are properly accounted for, their distribution is unfair - Kawangware residents get a small portion of the NGO budgets while executive directors earn high salaries, live in plush homes and drive around in four-wheel drive vehicles using donor funding.

Kiarie said it was important for donors themselves to monitor and evaluate the projects they funded. Allegations of corruption, he added, only served to dissuade donors, hurting even the genuine NGOs.

"Instead of having more controls, they should have better controls; now donors are paranoid and there is no more money for us to help the community, so who is to pay the bill?" he said.

Both the National Council of NGOs and the NGOs board argue that better administrative and legal procedures are needed to fight abuses; rather then creating a new body, which would bring more bureaucracy, existing tools need to be improved.

Officials from the council and the board also feel their attempts to control NGO operations are constrained by their lack of muscle, as they can do very little to penalise wayward organisations.

"The main function of the NGO board is to register, coordinate, facilitate NGO operations," said David Isoe, executive director of the NGO coordination board. "We don't have the arresting power; the police have those powers."


Theme(s): (IRIN) Economy/Business - PlusNews, (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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