An international fund into which the Conservative government plowed a half-billion dollars last year is reeling over revelations of corruption, including reports of misused millions in Mali — one of Canada's top development-aid countries.
The controversy surrounding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will likely come up as Prime Minister Stephen Harper travels to Geneva this week to sort out the specifics of his international initiative to boost maternal and child health.
The Associated Press reported this week that internal investigations at the Global Fund, also based in Geneva, uncovered $34 million in losses in some African nations, with $19 million of that subsequently recovered. Only a handful of grants have been studied by a special investigative unit.
A statement from International Development Minister Bev Oda said the government is "deeply concerned" whenever allegations of corruption are brought forward.
"Canada is taking every possible measure to ensure that its development funds are used effectively to reach the people whose lives depend on the support of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria prevention and treatment," the statement said.
Harper used his address at the United Nations General Assembly last year to announce his government's contribution of $540 million to the fund and linked it to the federal maternal and child health initiative.
$1.5 billion since 2001
That contribution brought Canada's total support for the fund to $1.5 billion since its inception in 2001.
In Mali, one of the Conservative government's priority countries for development funding, investigators found that $4 million had been misappropriated. The fund announced last month it had put a hold on grants to Mali worth $22.6 million, and officials in Geneva defended the organization saying it was doing far more to stamp out corruption than other major development agencies.
The Canadian statement noted that fund donors and partners are helping the organization to improve monitoring of its programs, and inspection mechanisms have been strengthened.
Harper has underlined his commitment to accountability in development assistance and will be discussing in Geneva how to ensure the goals of the maternal health initiative are reached.
Sweden, meanwhile, has announced it will withhold its support for the fund until it is satisfied sufficient action has been taken to deal with corruption.
UN won't open books
Liberal international development critic Glen Pearson said Canada should not halt its support, but should nonetheless demand more accountability within the organization.
He pointed out that the United Nations Development Program, which manages one-fifth of the fund, refuses to open its books to investigators.
"It would be my hope that (Harper) would do a statesmanlike thing, and say, this is serious, we can't ever take this lightly, so let's get an investigation going, let's make it work, let's make the UNDP have to show its audits for half its initiatives which are in the global fund and see if we can't manage our way through this crisis so people don't suffer on the receiving end," Pearson said.
Pearson says that celebrity-driven organizations like the Global Fund, which simply collect money and hand it out to governments rather than administer it themselves, are often disconnected from the realities on the ground.
"If you're going to start involving local administrations and others you have to make sure as a funding agency that you stay on top of that."