AG drawn into Aids fund chaos

The auditor general’s office confirmed this week that it has received a detailed letter alleging misappropriation of funds by the National Association of People Living with Aids (Napwa), which receives millions each year from the Department of Health.

The Aids Law Project, acting on behalf of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), has officially asked the auditor general (AG) to investigate the way Napwa spends its public funding.

“The Office of the Auditor General acknowledges that a request to investigate the National Association of People living with Aids has been received. The AG is engaged in a preliminary process to determine the exact nature of the request and no further details can be provided at this stage,” said Nitasha Manik, corporate executive manager at the AG.

The Mail & Guardian has in its possession the letter to the AG, which calculates that, between 1999 and 2003, Napwa received close to R10-million from the national and provincial departments of health.

The letter alleges that Napwa has not provided the national department with complete audits of the way it has spent the money. “The documents provided by the department and our subsequent findings warrant an urgent investigation into a clear case of abuse of public funds,” says the letter to the AG.

Aids activists say the letter could be the motive behind an attempt by Napwa to hijack the Aids Consortium, an umbrella body that coordinates more than 1 000 organisations concerned with the Aids pandemic. Admitting a financial crisis, the consortium has conducted a forensic audit into its own financial affairs.

The M&G first reported infighting in the Aids Consortium last month.

A breakaway group, led by Napwa, formed an interim committee to

oust the elected executive committee, claiming it had misused funding.

The management and executive committee of the Aids Consortium countered by calling the interim committee illegitimate and releasing an audit report, which found a former executive director — who has since been suspended — responsible for the alleged mismanagement.

Last week tensions erupted when both the breakaway interim committee and the elected executive committee attended a general monthly meeting to update consortium members on the findings of the forensic audit.

The meeting was disrupted when Napwa members challenged executive committee chairperson Mazibuko Jara, and a scuffle broke out after a Napwa member hurled racial insults at the executive committee. Aids Law Project director Mark Heywood was attacked by Thandoxolo Doro, the national organiser of Napwa, who said: “We are sick of you fucking white racists taking advantage of black people and people with HIV/Aids.”

In the week that Gauteng province begins its roll-out of anti-retroviral treatment, said Heywood at the meeting, the ongoing fight for the leadership of the Aids Consortium is a “disgrace [to] the cause we are fighting for”. The meeting broke up in disarray after the interim committee refused to accept a vote that the agenda of the meeting be adhered to.

“In its 12-year history, the Aids Consortium has never experienced such obvious disruption and continues to call into question the process of disruption created by Napwa.

“These individuals are known to have financial discrepancies and questionable business activities within their own organisations,” said Jara.

Like the consortium, said Stella Mhawgo, representing a local and international volunteer network, Napwa has a problem with mismanaged funds — but unlike the consortium, Napwa refuses to be transparent.

Doro this week vigorously defended the legitimacy of the interim committee, claimed the consortium’s executive committee is telling “lies”, and called the forensic report unlawful because it was done by consortium bookkeepers.

He conceded, however, that he is driving a car that was meant to be raffled off by Napwa in December last year. It still carries a sign calling on people to pay R10 and win the car to benefit people living with HIV/Aids.

He said Napwa would still raffle a car — the organisation would buy one with the proceeds of the raffle tickets. “We are having a charity soccer tournament with Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs which will take place on April 24 in the Eastern Cape,” he said, and the car will be presented to the winner then.

The car is already well used and does not have hub-caps, having served as Napwa’s taxi for three months now.

As for the letter to the AG, he said: “We have heard this through the grapevine. We find it strange that the AG would not communicate this with us. But we ... will definitely comply with it. We are sure it will not find anything irregular.”

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