ZIMBABWE: AIDS groups accuse government of "playing politics"

AIDS groups in Zimbabwe this week condemned a "political" decision by the government to transfer control over money from a national AIDS fund to ruling party-run district councils, activists told PlusNews.

The cabinet announced last week that the disbursement of money from the AIDS Trust Fund to independent village AIDS committees had been suspended because the groups could not be trusted to handle the large sums involved, the 'Financial Gazette' reported on Thursday. The ministers said funds would instead be channelled through government structures and ZANU-PF controlled rural and ditrict councils.

Dr Frank Guni, director of the Zimbabwe Network of People living with HIV/AIDS and a member of the National AIDS Council (NAC) board, told PlusNews that these local administrative councils had a poor track record in handling money from the Fund. Guni said he could not rule out political motives behind putting funds under their control, in the light of presidential elections due early next year.

NAC convened an urgent meeting with the cabinet's Social Services Committee on Wednesday, and the cabinet's decision to suspend disbursement was subsequently withdrawn, Guni said. But he added that the committee insisted that the money was state property and they didn't want "state funds in the hands of people they cannot control".

"The Network of People living with HIV/AIDS has made it very clear that we find this unacceptable. We have told the government that we can't wait for their politics while people are dying on the ground," said Guni.

In an attempt to make the process more transparent, NAC suggested that the rural councils open a separate bank account for AIDS funds. It also recommended that the minister of local government be involved in the disbursement, to make government accountable for the money.

Despite a lack of evidence proving the government's misuse of the AIDS Fund, Guni cited the recent example of the minister of health's disbursement of US $375,000 from the Fund without NAC approval. NAC is a special entity created by government and it is the only body charged with the distribution of money from the AIDS Fund. "This was clearly a political move, because the people thought the money was coming from the government, instead of from the AIDS levy," said Guni

The AIDS Trust Fund was created last year after the government imposed a three percent AIDS levy on personal and corporate income. In March, the government dissolved the NAC, after deciding that the agency "did not have the legal authority to manage the trust".

Some accused the government of "playing politics," saying that the agency's board was disbanded because the chair was a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

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