Governance spat plagues coordinating board of Global Fund, divides NGOs
Civil Society | Health
An increasingly heated dispute has broken out over local NGO representation on China’s “Country Coordinating Mechanism” for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has so far provided more than USD 190 million for AIDS prevention and care programmes in China.
China’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) is the primary recipient of Global Fund monies, and is contractually responsible for disbursing the funds to implementing agencies. To date, the great majority of the funding has gone to health authorities, but a growing share has been earmarked for NGO projects.
The Global Fund, launched as a public-private sector partnership in 2002, requires each recipient country to establish a Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) to ensure a multi-sectoral response with adequate involvement of civil society, including NGOs and HIV positive people. China’s earliest application to the Fund was rejected, largely because a sufficiently broad CCM had not been established.
Starting in 2003, a multi-sectoral CCM was established, including representatives of government ministries, international donors and NGOs, but by 2005 it had become unwieldy, with 54 members and several more applications to join. It agreed to reform and streamline through a series of elections for representatives of distinct constituencies, and also to strengthen the full-time Secretariat, housed within the CDC. The election process, however, has proved contentious.
On April 27, the Secretariat convened a meeting for local NGOs to elect a representative to the CCM. Eighteen NGOs attended and elected Jia Ping (贾平), Development Director of Aizhiyuanzhu (爱之援助) Centre for Health and Education, based in the northeastern city of Shenyang. Jia is a lawyer who last year was a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights.
However, objections to the election were raised by another NGO, Beijing Zhi’Aixing (知爱行), led by one of China’s best-known AIDS activists, Wan Yanhai (万延海). Wan criticised the process on the grounds that only legally registered groups were eligible to attend the meeting, and that some of those who did attend were not authentic NGOs, but proxies of local health authorities and hospitals.
Zhi’Aixing and eight other NGOs then convened a May 6 assembly in Beijing, attended by a total of 70 organisations. They held their own election, selecting the Tianjin Hemophiliacs Friendly Association (天津血友病联谊会) as a representative on the CCM, and also selecting Zhi’Aixing and Xinyuan Gongzuozu (馨缘工作组), based in Wuhan, as non-voting delegates to the CCM.
On May 24, Wan met with Qiang Zhengfu (强正富), head of the CCM Secretariat and also Director of CDC International Bureau, to discuss the election conflict. Zhi’Aixing has since published on their website a tape recording of the meeting, which rapidly became acrimonious. Wan complains of Qiang’s “autocratic methods” (专制的方法). Qiang retorts that this language is reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, and accuses Wan of “using foreign money to serve foreigners” (用外国人的钱，为外国人服务).
Jia Ping, meanwhile, is threatening to sue the Reuters News Agency for reporting which, in his view, misrepresented him as a government stooge, according to an email list-serve circulated by the Snow Lotus (雪莲花) AIDS Project Group, based in Xinjiang.
The public airing of so much dirty linen is embarrassing to an international donor community that spent years encouraging Chinese government counterparts to create space for civil society actors.
UNAIDS Coordinator in Beijing, Joel Rehnstrom, describes the affair as “a storm in a teacup” but also “a distraction from the main task of looking at how to strengthen monitoring and accountability” of Global Fund projects that now span more than 50 counties in seven provinces.
Rehnstrom stresses that civil society involvement in China’s AIDS response is increasing, pointing out that only 15% of the first round of Global Fund resources were earmarked for NGO projects, compared to 35% in the last round. “Theres a long way to go; when you leave Beijing and go to some of the provinces there is very little appetite for working with NGOs,” he says, “But compared to where we were in 2003, at least at the central level there is some funding increasingly going to NGOs.”
Report by Nick Young and Tina Qian, May 31 2006