The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly come with several challenges that have led to many brunt and unpleasant impacts. Consequently, the pandemic has informed a concerted global effort that targets ending the pandemic and its general impact. These efforts entail support programs, including relief materials, funds, incentives, donations of equipment, and vaccines, especially for developing countries.
Furthermore, global institutions have also availed monetary support to tackle the health crisis. For instance, the World Bank has released almost $24.7 billion to respond to the pandemic. Since January 2020, Devex has tracked over 96 specific assistance actions (non-reimbursable) worth $2.1 billion and 35 loans and other sovereign and nonsovereign operations worth $22 billion in West and Central Africa.
However, there have been disheartening reports of theft and mismanagement of the funds in some developing countries.
In Malawi, auditors unearthed irregular spending of over 720 million Kwacha (approximately $900,000) in the country’s Covid-19 response. The Ministry of Labour alone used over 1.4 million Kwacha to bankroll a trip to South Africa by the minister and commissioner.
In another report by the Daily Nation, Kenya’s Ministry of Health procured ventilators at double the price and cannot account for how the remaining millions were utilized.
Elsewhere, Nigerian officials have also been on the spot for allegedly diverting the Covid-19 funds with the ICPC Director of Operations, Mr Akeem Lawal, indicating that the money went to personal accounts. He added that in other instances, agencies and their respective officials were involved in fraudulent procurement of Covid-19 related equipment and other forms of support, including distribution of foodstuffs.
Notably, a Nigerian Bureau of Statistics survey indicates that by July 16, 2020, just 12.5% of the poorest quintile of respondents had received some form of food assistance since the pandemic. This is despite Nigeria receiving a significant share of food donations.
Some of the donations entail 50 million euros from the European Union, $72 million from the Nigerian Coalition Against Covid-19 (CACOVID) team, and $3.4 billion emergency support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Other countries like Uganda and South Africa have also reported irregularities in accounting for the Covid-19 mitigation funds.
Civil Societies Role in Pushing for Accountability
Generally, reports on the misappropriation of Covid-19 funds have generated concerns by civil society organisations who have requested inclusion in the fight against the pandemic through tracking and monitoring the use of the funds. Furthermore, since the onset of the pandemic, these organizations have called for equal access to the resources, testing, vaccine, amongst other provisions.
At the initial stage of the pandemic, Nigeria’s country Director of ActionAid Ene Obi requested that the federal government involve members of the civil society in ensuring accountability for COVID-19 resources.
“The Federal Government should set a clear accountability mechanism structure in partnership with Civil Society Organizations to track and monitor the utilization of resources committed to the COVID-19 response,” said Obi.
Elsewhere, according to Chibike Alagbaso, a health journalist, the agencies under the Ministry of Health and the NCDC have been proactive with communicating to the public, which is integral in transparency and accountability. However, he thinks the government can be more proactive in accounting for the funds.
Globally and locally, there is evidence supporting the favourable impact of NGO-government collaboration on health improvement and the promotion of programs established to control and prevent outbreaks and prevalent diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis, Lassa fever, cholera, and malaria in the past and present.
The adaptive strategies and tactics in modelling and creating interventions have been one of the outstanding aspects. In addition, they have earned the trust of the people over time by the consistent role of facilitating information exchange between duty bearers and right holders, identifying and addressing issues of common interest of marginalized groups, and filling in to amplify the voice of the vulnerable members of the society.
Worth noting is that besides calling for accountability in Covid-19 funds management, civil societies are also playing an active role in making attempts to contain the pandemic. On a global scale, project HOPE delivered over 17.5 million PPEs and over 5,000 pieces of medical equipment, hygiene, and sanitation supplies. Furthermore, the organization trained over 116,000 health workers and frontline personnel in more than 150 countries globally.
In Nigeria, organizations like MercyCorp conducted research to help relevant stakeholders understand the impact of the pandemic in conflict societies.
According to Mr Hamzat Lawal, the Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE), the Nigerian civil society played a vital role to spotlight the gaps in the country’s healthcare system exposed by the pandemic and push the government to invest in the proper infrastructure and systems that would ensure people do not die needlessly.
He added that another significant role civil societies played (and are still playing) in fighting the pandemic is ensuring all monies donated and earmarked to combat and contain the spread of the virus didn’t end up in private pockets.
“Our job as civil society is to monitor funding and drive the use of public money for the public good. For instance, in 2020, Follow The Money (FTM) tracked N97 billion of Covid-19 funds at state and federal levels. It accelerated the publication of an updated national Emergency Procurement Policies (EPP) by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).”
Overall he describes the activities of civil society organizations as one that “amplify the voices of the marginalized people and knowing their challenges, it is our duty to ensure the government is aware of these challenges.”
The relationship between the Nigerian government and civil society can be described as one that swings between cooperative and conflict-driven, which varies with the activities of the CSO and the prevailing government.
However, in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, many members of the CSOs have expressed dissatisfaction with how aloof the government has engaged them.
Hamzat Lawal lamented that the government has failed to see the CSOs as allies in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. He explained that this poor engagement affects the work of civil societies severely, and it could be quite discouraging.
Moving forward, Chibike Alagbaso said that both the government and CSOs need to listen to each other and collaborate more. “That way, they see themselves as partners in progress, working to make life better for Nigerians.”
There is already proof highlighting the fruitful outcomes of government and CSO partnership. One case is a partnership between the World Health Organisation, a multilateral organization supporting the Nigerian government to engage 7,350 traditional and religious leaders across 11 priority states to execute community-based interventions, including sensitization for voluntary testing, survivors’ declaration of status during heroes’ campaign, a voluntary declaration of contacts by confirmed cases and adherence to preventive measures. This exercise increased the number of testing in the focused states.
In managing the Covid-19 resources, civil societies should be included in the process to achieve a more transparent and consequently purposeful use of the resources.
This OUTBREAK story was supported by Code for Africa’s WanaData program as part of the Data4COVID19 Africa Challenge hosted by l’Agence française de développement (AFD), Expertise France, and The GovLab.