HIV/AIDS Corruption Is a Business for Central Asian Bureaucrats

Dushanbe, Tajikistan (GVO) – For greedy politicians in the two poorest states of Central Asia, foreign aid is the gift that keeps on giving.

Not for the first time, funds from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which helps provide impoverished countries with essential drugs to treat critical diseases, have been squandered by graft prone state agencies in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

On May 15, Vesti.KG reported that the Global Fund demanded Kyrgyzstan compensate it for a loss of over $120,000. The Global Fund believes it has proof of theft of grants by various Kyrgyz state officials. A similar story — only with slightly larger sums of theft — was reported in neighbouring Tajikistan two months ago and is still being poured over by local media.

A complicated arrangement

The Tajik scandal emerged after the Washington-funded Office of Inspector General (OIG), working at the request of the Global Fund, found forgery in the financial reporting of the Committee for Youth, Sports and Tourism of Tajikistan. The Global Fund promptly blacklisted the committee, barring it from receiving further funds.

OIG auditors reported that the Global Fund had allocated assistance amounting to $300,000 to the Tajik Youth Committee via the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and identified incidents of document falsification worth $116,726 in the Committee’s financial reporting.

Ultimately the American auditors proved that the Committee — in collaboration with a shady private company called Komyob — had accounted for purchases of non-health products such as MP3 and DVD-players, notebooks, pens and health insurance packages with prices inflated by an average of 118% when compared to the market value of the products.

In April, after the scandal had broken, Nusratullo Salimzoda, Tajik Minister of Health, blasted donors for not notifying the government about the arrival of foreign auditors in Tajikistan.

‘Rob the state, buy a position, rob some more’

The saga raised a lot of concerns among readers of Tajikistan’s Asia-Plus news agency. Most commenters condemned the Youth Committee for stealing the money that was supposed to tackle rising threats to public health.

A reader of Asia-Plus, Slujebniy, wrote:

Some white-collar state official is buying another Lexus, while the tuberculosis bacillus virus travels through the hungry and very weak body of a Tajik.
… An American caught the thief …
… Russians wrote about it …
… Tajiks are in shock …

Komgum, another reader, criticised corrupt officials for their irresponsibility:

Slogan of a state official: Rob the state, buy a position and [use it to] rob some more. Such spivvery is everywhere in the country. Concerning the article, I want to say: hey officials, what if you get ill with HIV / AIDS (God forbid, of course) — think about it.

Given that Kyrgyzstan places 136th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and Tajikistan 152nd, it is no surprise that in Kyrgyzstan’s case at least, audits ordered by the Global Fund have identified irregularities before.

This time, in response to the news that the Fund is demanding money back, a reader of a Kyrgyz news website simply replied: “Too late. It has been eaten already.”

The Fund keeps a record of all the audits it has contracted to OIG dating back to 2007on its website. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have also been the subject of critical audits in the past.

‘The fish rots from the head’

Pardahol, a commenter on Tajikistan’s Asia-Plus website, believes that all state agencies working with international donors engage in fraudulent activities.

She argued:

I am confident that all of the projects financed by international institutions through the Project Management Centers (PMC) are corrupt. Do you not believe me? Check up on any PMC director and you will find at least two houses and several expensive cars. Directors of local management centers and committees are appointed by the mayor [of the capital Dushanbe] or the president.

A reader, who called himself TJK, mentioned that corruption starts from the top:

If the [Youth Committee] milked so much money, then imagine what happens at the Ministry of Finance and other ministries directly working with grants and investments. The whole system is corrupt, starting with the government. The fish rots from the head.

Finally, Salom, an Asia-Plus reader, criticized officials for blaming the auditors who published the fraudulent activities of the Youth Committee.

He wrote: 

Instead of apologizing, the Minister [of Health] counterattacked and accused the auditors. Apparently the auditors should warn the Minister [about their audits] so that the Committee has time to cover everything up. Oh, how stupid!

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In total, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria has provided Tajikistan with $140 million and Kyrgyzstan with $91 million since independence. The fund claims that 3,000 aids sufferers are currently benefiting from donor-funded anti-retroviral medicine in the two countries.


Written by Farrukh Umari for Global Voices Online.