Netherlands, Sweden Freeze $33M in Health Aid to Zambia Because of Corruption Allegations

Zambian ministers on Thursday said the Netherlands and Sweden have frozen $33 million in aid that is used for HIV/AIDS and other health programs in response to allegations that senior health ministry officials stole $2 million, Reuters reports (Reuters, 5/28). The Dutch and Swedish governments announced their decision after a source alerted Zambia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to the embezzlement (IRIN/PlusNews, 5/27).

According to Reuters, the freeze will “mainly affect health programmes in rural areas.” Zambia’s Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane said the $33 million being withheld comes “out of a total donor support of $120 million for the whole of 2009,” he added, “The government deeply regrets the suspension of money for a sector that assists the poorest of the poor” (Reuters, 5/28).

Donors fund 55% of Zambia’s health budget, according to IRIN/PlusNews. The Dutch government provides the most support to Zambia’s tuberculosis program, and it gives $18 million annually for rural health programs aimed at providing health worker training and controlling HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. Before the scandal broke, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) had earmarked 88 million kroner, about $12 million, for the Zambian Ministry of Health. SIDA will now await the ACC’s findings before releasing funds and Charlotta Norrby, SIDA’s head in Zambia, said the agency will “not accept any abuse of development money” (IRIN/PlusNews, 5/27).

Musokotwane said the government would develop a contingency plan in order to bridge the anticipated monthly shortfall of $5 million. He said the funds serve people in Zambia who are most in need for basic health services (Lesser, VOA News, 5/29). Swebby Macha, president of the Zambia Medical Association, said that the suspension of aid “will affect service delivery… Especially in the areas of drug supply and equipment, preventive programmes of HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB and the rural retention scheme for our health workers.” He added, “As things stand … the government will have to run the health sector with 45% funding” (IRIN/PlusNews, 5/27).

More than 20 health ministry employees have been suspended, and the ACC has “seized and restricted” property worth more than 3 billion kwacha – or almost $600,000 – which is owned by Henry Kapoko, a former health ministry human resource official who now works at the Ministry of Local Government and Housing, Pana/Afrique en ligne reports (Pana/Afrique en ligne, 5/28).   

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