Over the past weeks and months, we’ve been warning of the dangers of essential funds for the response to the coronavirus crisis being misspent, misappropriated and simply going missing.
This week, more stories unfortunately confirmed the validity of these concerns.
In Bolivia, the Minister of Health was removed from his post after the government paid over the odds for ventilators that weren’t even fit for purpose.
In Italy, the head of Sicily’s coronavirus response has been put under house arrest following an investigation into bribery cases going back to 2016.
In Poland, the Health Minister is under fire after the government bought more than 10,000 useless face masks through a family friend. The case has been referred to prosecutors.
These examples join many others, including an investigation in Bosnia and Herzegovina into a multi-million Euro government contract for ventilators that went to a raspberry farm with political connections, and the resignation in Panama of a senior politician involved in yet another ventilator procurement scandal.
The COVID-19 crisis brings two issues into clear focus: the importance of government action in the emergency response and the essential and often lifesaving role of public procurement.
In many of these cases, journalists and civil society have played a key role in uncovering wrongdoing. In others, law enforcement and state anti-corruption institutions have been able to do their jobs and ensure there is accountability for misuse of public funds. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has also seen direct threats to this oversight, whether as harsh limits on press freedom, restrictions to freedom of information, pressure on civil society activists, and under-resourcing of key government accountability mechanisms.
Major institutions are increasingly recognising the role that civil society organisations can play in supporting government accountability, but without the conditions in which to thrive, civic monitoring can be dangerous or downright impossible.
As we’ve said before and will keep saying, the huge volume of funds being spent to tackle coronavirus must have sufficient oversight and accountability. That means ensuring a safe environment for civil society and journalists, extending access to information, and making sure government agencies are well-equipped and responsive.
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