Corruption fears over US$500m UN aid

The Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, administered by the United Nations and funded by Britain, America and other critics of the Harare regime, has agreed in principle to Zimbabwe’s request for help. Jon Liden, its communications director, confirmed that Zimbabwe had applied for almost $300 million to fight Aids, $58 million to combat tuberculosis, almost $60 million for malaria and $83 million for its health service in general. This application had cleared the most important hurdle by gaining approval from the “technical review panel”.

All that remains is for the Global Fund’s board to agree to release the funds at its meeting in New Delhi next month. Mr Mugabe’s regime has already described this as a “foregone conclusion”.

But Zimbabwean law states that all foreign exchange must be deposited with the Reserve Bank. Gideon Gono, its governor and one of Mr Mugabe’s closest allies, routinely delays releasing any funds.

The Reserve Bank held on to $600,000 for one aid programme for several months. A senior official with one donor organisation in Harare said that some funds had actually gone missing after arriving at the Reserve Bank.

“The next round of money is desperately needed in Zimbabwe, but no one will feel good about any going into the RBZ [Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe],” he said.

Dr Greg Powell, a human rights campaigner in Harare, said that large sums of donor money in foreign currency had been taken from the accounts of local aid agencies during this year’s bitterly contested presidential election, which is yet to be resolved as Mr Mugabe clings to power. “During the election period, foreign money from a number of NGOs [non-governmental organisations] disappeared from their bank accounts,” he said.

“They were told they could be paid out at the official rate of exchange in Zimbabwe dollars – at a very low rate of exchange at that time, or that they will get it back some time in the future.”

Dr Henry Madzorera, the health spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said he hoped the Global Fund would ensure “accountability” if the new money is released. “We all know what goes on at the Reserve bank. It is not surprising, and someone should be held accountable.”

Western diplomats in Harare see Mr Gono as one of the main authors of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse. They blame the Reserve Bank under his leadership for the outbreak of hyperinflation.

But the Global Fund insisted that strict safeguards were in place. “We operate in 136 countries, many of them are infamous for their corruption, so we are extremely concerned and conscious about the possible misuse of funds,” said Mr Liden. “It has taken longer to put in place a safe disbursement mechanism in Zimbabwe than any other country. The money is highly controlled in an extremely tight and cautious way. We have not seen any signs of money being lost to corruption in Zimbabwe, despite operating in Zimbabwe for five years.”

Zimbabwe’s health system has collapsed to the point where even basic medicines are in short supply and trained personnel are emigrating droves. Female life expectancy stands at only 34 – the lowest in the world.

The country’s so-called “war veterans”, Mr Mugabe’s shock troops who have carried out much of the land invasions and violence of recent years, have issued a new threat to the opposition leader and putative prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Their leader Jabulani Sibanda told the Herald newspaper that the MDC chief was blocking the power-sharing agreement.

He added: “He is leaving the people of Zimbabwe with one option: to take action. If he behaves the way he is behaving, this nation will take action to defend itself from him.” Telegraph (UK)