15 August 2005

Kenya: Days Numbered for Bogus Aids NGOs

Nairobi — The mandate of the Non-Governmental Organisations Co-ordinating Board could soon be expanded so that it can monitor and evaluate the activities of all NGOs operating in the country.

This follows a hue and cry by some Members of Parliament who said some bogus NGOs may have pocketed up to one billion shillings paid to them by the National Aids Control Council (NACC).

An HIV/Aids awareness campaign conducted by artists and members of the public in Mombasa.

The NGOs Act of 1990 only gave the board the mandate to scrutinise the validity of documents presented to it by NGOs for the purposes of registration.

The board was created as an independent regulating organisation under the the Office of the Vice President and is chaired by Prof Wycliffe Mutsune.

But it needs more teeth to deal with wayward NGOs. Its director Sack Silatei said that a number of meetings had been held recently during which ways were explored on how the board could execute some of the responsibilities on behalf of the NACC.

"We have held a series of meetings to explore ways on how our mandate will be expanded to cover not only registration of NGOs but to also monitor and evaluate their operations and activities in the country," Mr Silatei said.

The board, which is appointed by the minister responsible for NGOs, is authorised to register only NGOs (both local and international) operating in the country but this mandate does not cover registration of CBOs.

Mr Silatei said the board had received complaints that some CBOs involved in the fight against HIV/Aids were unable to account for the funds they received from the National Aids Control Council.

Currently, CBOs are registered by the District Community Development Officer while others are registered under the Society's Act.

"This makes it extremely difficult to monitor and control the CBOs," Mr Silatei said.

Extend mandate

"The board has asked the government to extend its mandate to cover the registration, monitoring and evaluation of CBOs as well," he added.

Out of the 4,000 NGOs, 20 per cent failed to account for their activities, Mr Silatei said.

"From the records they submit annually, NGOs are doing a commendable job, there are very rare cases where we detect anomalies," he added.

This is in stark contrast to statements by several MPs who said many NGOs were brief case operations created expressly to solicit for funding from the Government and then close shop.

In 2002, at least 300 were struck off the register for failing to comply with rules. All NGOs are required to file returns on how they spend money received from donors.

The Government will now ensure that the disbursement of funds through the NACC is harmonised, the Minister for Special Programmes in the Office of President, Mr Njenga Karume, said.

But some MPs want to be assigned this task and be allowed to administer the disbursement of HIV/Aids funds in their constituencies.

Other lawmakers such as Prof Ruth Oniang'o (nominated-Kanu) believe that almost everyone knows about HIV/Aids and that there was no need to use additional funds in public awareness programmes.

Such funds, she said, should be used to buy drugs for those who have contracted the virus.

Assistant minister for Water John Munyes and Mr Stephen ole Ntutu (Narok South-Kanu) have reacted differently, saying it was unfair to slap a blanket accusation on all NGOs.

Checks and balances

The Government, they said should put in place a system of checks and balances and proposed they establishment of a separate and independent committee to administer Aids funds.

Mr Munyes said the Minister for Local Government Muskari Kombo would visit his Turkana North constituency to relaunch a Sh2 million Aids programme in Kakuma.

"I am questioning the validity of one or two groups in my constituency," he said.

Not all MPs want the funds to be diverted to the Consolidated Development Funds (CDF) administered under the direction of Members of Parliament.

"Putting the funds into the CDF would complicate matters," said Narok South MP Mr Stephen Ole Ntutu.

"Already CDF committees are overloaded. Let other people be given the opportunity to do the work," said Mr Ole Ntutu.

Early this month some MPs complained that up to Sh 1 billion may already have ended up in the pockets of people masquerading as directors of "briefcase" NGOs.

This year Sh216 million has been set aside for disbursement to all the 210 constituencies. However, only Sh150 million was released last week to various CBOs operating in constituencies.

An additional Sh464 million has been set aside for the fight against HIV/Aids in government ministries.

Another and Sh260 million will be given to implementing organisations such as research and educational institutions. These include Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), religious organisations, women and youth groups.

"In Narok South, the community-based organisations, through the leadership of the chairperson, Mrs Hellen Kibetu, have done a great job, said Mr Ole Ntutu.

"They have created public awareness about the pandemic, I am happy with that," he added.

The World Bank provides the Government with money to use in the fight against HIV/Aids. This is channelled through the National Aids Control Council's project Kenya HIV/Aids Disaster Response Project (KHADREP).

NACC director Patrick Orege said directors of NGOs which misused Aids funds must be prosecuted.

Several high profile individuals have already landed in court over related offences.

Prof Alloys Orago of the NACC dismissed the MPs' complaints, saying as patrons of the Constituency Aids Control (CACC), they are required to sign project documents authorising NACC to disburse money to the groups operating in their constituencies.

"We only deal with entities registered by the Government. We issue a form, it is very difficult to justify the MPs complaints, they are actually accusing themselves of not doing their vetting work," Prof Orago said.

He said the NACC disbursed Sh2.1 billion between 2000 and 2005 covering 5,636 projects.

But the list of groups and the amounts published in newspapers this month was a reminder to the groups that they had not accounted for money they had been given.

"If they don't account for all funds, they will not be entitled to more," said Prof Orago.

"The next disbursement will depend on the success of next week's discussions between the Government and the World Bank, we are expecting a World Bank appraisal team next week," he said.

The Public Networks Information officer at the NGO Council, Mr Moses Musau, said the council was investigating some NGOs following reports that they were "corrupt and were not conducting their activities in a transparent manner."

"I will not disclose their names but we are investigating how they use Aids funds following complaints by some MPs. NGOs are supposed to work closely with Community Based Organisations," he said.

The Public Information Officer, Mr Vitalis Musebi, said the Non-Governmental Organisations Co-ordinating Board does not interfere with the day-to-day operations of NGOs because they were legal entities, accountable to donors for their own activities.

NGOs are protected by the Act which also created the NGO Council. The council then formulated a code of conduct which governs their operations, including the way they raise funds and how they account for money they have received.

"We only require returns from NGOs showing how much money they received over a certain period of time and how that money was utilised. It is difficult for the board to control over 400 NGOs, we leave them to regulate themselves," Mr Musebi said.

Mr Musebe said MPs were entitled to question the utilisation of tax payers' money. But MPs have no control over money sourced independently by NGOs from donors.

He said MPs may not been the best people to control Aids funds.

"We need impartial people, preferably clean NGOs to operate the Aids kitty," Mr Musebi added.

These sentiments were echoed last month when a lobby groups demanded that they be included in a government-sponsored study meant to review the Government's performance on social and economic issues. "It is only NGOs that have the network on the ground which can carry out the survey in a non-partisan way and give a clear report, and official, Mrs Brididtte Kitenge said.

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