#SAAIDS2017: AIDS Council Slams Corruption Claims. 15/6/2017

Published by IOL

Durban – Claims of corruption and maladministration within the South African National Aids Council (Sanac) have been dismissed by the organisation as being "a power play" undertaken by those with "an anti transformation agenda".

"There is no mismanagement at Sanac. The root cause of [the allegations] is the power of resources. For so many years, black-led organisation have been left out of resources," Sanac Civil Society Forum (CSF) chairperson, Mmapaseka Steve Letsike, said at a press briefing in Durban on Thursday morning.

Letsike is also the deputy chair of Sanac, the chair being South Africa deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Letsike further called the corruption allegations "manufactured", saying that she had been singled out.

The briefing was held on the last day of the 8th South African Aids Conference at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre.  

The conference had seen Sanac detractors sporadically holding up signs reading "Sanac can't be trusted" at some of the sessions.

The allegations were made by several civil society organisations that are part of Sanac, including the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Section 27 and S.W.E.A.T.

Those groups, together with several others, penned a letter addressed to delegates at the Aids conference titled "HIV and TB in 2017: Time for Honesty and Transparency".

In the document, the Sanac board of trustees was accused of not providing satisfactory explanations on disclosing alleged conflicts of interests within its top structures.

The signatories also questioned funding approval for Letsike (Sanac is a voluntary organisation) and a lack of transparency in appointing a new CEO after the contract of its widely regarded previous CEO, Fareed Abdullah, was not extended.

Other criticisms included the organisation being "unable and unwilling" to criticise weakness in service delivery or the "widespread dysfunction" in public healthcare and "reducing to irrelevance" civil society participation in the organisation, which signatories alleged was evident in the country's National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV, Aids and TB.

The signatories threatened to withdraw from Sanac and form "an independent and effective" structure.

Sanac is comprised of government – its primary funder – and civil society and business representatives. Its board oversees billions in donor funding for countrywide HIV/Aids projects.

The organisation is mandated with mobilising society and advising government on effectively responding to HIV, TB and STIs.

Letsike said there was unhappiness because funding would no longer be going to "majority white-led organisations".

"If you are calling me corrupt, bring the evidence or stop abusing us. Sanac doesn't even owe a kilometre [in petrol claims] to Steve."

"Steve had done more for Sanac than Sanac has done for Steve," she said.

The board would deal with allegations of mismanagement and corruption, she added.

Letsike said she had initially refused to sign a declaration of interest form when asked to do so by then CEO Abdullah because, "Steve couldn't sign something that had not yet been discussed".

Other board members had also refused to sign but she had been singled out, she said.

Letsike said she did eventually sign the declaration form after the board had discussed it.

She said the R240 000 she received from Sanac was "for work of the office of the co-chair".

No member of Sanac was paid and payments for salaries went towards administrative purposes, she said.

"I have in fact contributed more to Sanac than Sanac has done. I work for Chapter Two, not Sanac. My board understands this, Sanac must understand it too," she said.

Addressing the media with Letsike was Reverend Mbulelo Dyasi, from Sanac's People Living with HIV sector.

He called upon Parliament and the Public Protector to investigate "the entire Aids sector" in South Africa.

"The Auditor General must tell us why only four white organisations are funded," he said.

The TAC wrote to Ramaphosa in February and March this year with its concerns. Ramaphosa said the allegations would be investigated. 

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