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MALAWI: AIDS organisations face funding interruptions

Johannesburg, 7 October 2008 (IRIN) - Grassroots AIDS organisations in Malawi are facing uncertainty as the National AIDS Commission (NAC) ends its dependence on international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for dispersing grants.

The responsibility for channelling funds to more than 3,000 AIDS organisations working to alleviate the impacts of HIV and AIDS in Malawi has now shifted to local government authorities known as district assemblies.

Dr Bizwick Mwale, the NAC's executive director, explained to IRIN/PlusNews that the NGOs, called umbrella bodies, were contracted in 2003 to disperse AIDS funding from donors and government until the district assemblies had built sufficient capacity to take over.

"We did an assessment after 18 months and found there was still a gap [in capacity], so we extended the contract to umbrellas for another two years, with the view that by that time [the district assemblies] would be ready," he said. Some responsibilities of the umbrella organisations have already been transferred to the assemblies.

A number of AIDS organisations have expressed concern about both the readiness and the trustworthiness of some district assemblies to distribute funds.

"Our membership is worried because the processes involved will be lengthy, and there are some reports that when a CBO (community-based organisation) comes up with a proposal, [the district assemblies] demand a certain percentage from this amount," said Ishmael Nkosi, a policy and advocacy officer at the Malawi Network of AIDS Service Organisations (MANASO). "There are also concerns that there will be a lot of nepotism in the approving of funds."

Nkosi said the previous arrangement had not been without its problems as it had been difficult to coordinate efforts without the local authorities. "In the new set-up, the district assemblies will manage programmes and be much more involved in the national response," he said.

The funding maze

The flow of funding from international donors to local organisations working on the ground is a long process, fraught with the potential for bottlenecks and delays.

McBride Nkhalamba, an HIV/AIDS coordinator at the international NGO, ActionAid, which served as one of the NAC's umbrella bodies until 18 months ago, noted that disbursements from the NAC were often late or inconsistent.

CBOs also experienced delays or the cancellation of grants because they lacked the skills or training to adequately account for funds received in the previous quarter. "An organisation has to account through a very rigorous system, and some of the demands are discriminatory, because if you're dealing with a local organisation there's only so much you can expect," said Nkhalamba.

He noted that so much time often elapsed between an organisation writing a proposal and receiving the funds to implement it that the reality on the ground had sometimes changed by the time the money arrived.

ActionAid decided to terminate its contract with the NAC when the administrative burden became too cumbersome. "We thought the primary reason for engaging NGOs as umbrellas was to allow for innovation and greater efficiency, but there was less space for that in the implementation," commented Nkhalamba.

According to Mwale of the NAC, organisations should brace themselves for some disruption in the disbursement of grants while district assemblies take over from the umbrella bodies.

Mathias Milanzi, who works for a CBO that assists orphans and vulnerable children in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial hub, said his organisation was still waiting to receive funding for the 2008 October to December quarter. "We have a big problem with lack of food," he told IRIN/PlusNews. "We need some more money."

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See also: MALAWI: Accounting for AIDS funding no small matter

Theme (s): Aid Policy, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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