2 Mar 2016
Cumbersome processes, inadequate systems cited

While grant-making under the new funding model is better than it was under the rounds-based system, there are still many inefficiencies caused by cumbersome processes at the Secretariat level, duplicated documentation, and inadequate systems.

This was a central finding of an audit conducted by the Office of Inspector General on The Global Fund’s grant-making processes. A report on the audit, which was conducted in the Summer of 2015, was released on 24 February. For the audit, the OIG reviewed the grant-making process for 20 grants.

On average, 22 documents are prepared during grant-making. The OIG said that the information contained in the documents is sometimes duplicative, and that only four of the documents are critical for decision-making by the Grant Approvals Committee.

The volume of documents required means that some of them are not submitted to the GAC on a timely basis. The Secretariat does not track the timeliness of document submissions, the OIG said, “but it is widely acknowledged that country teams do not submit grant documents on time. There are also no defined consequences for late submission. Consequently, there is risk that documents submitted late place additional burden on approvers’ ability to undertake meaningful reviews of these documents.”

The OIG observed that 33 grants account for a $8.8 billion of allocated funds, with 202 grants accounting for the remaining $6 billion. However, it said, the grant-making process for all grants, regardless of size, has remained substantially the same.

The OIG noted that at the time of the audit, the Secretariat was already developing plans to differentiate the grant-making process in order to reduce the workload for smaller and less risky portfolios. However, it said, there has been limited progress in putting the plans into practice. The volume of documents required to sign grants has remained the same for all portfolios regardless of grant size and risk. Also, while under differentiation the country teams have an option to tailor the capacity assessment tool, almost half of them have chosen not to do so.  

In the view of the OIG, the limited progress in portfolio differentiation is due to inadequate guidance about its application to different circumstances. “In the absence of a defined risk appetite,” the OIG said, “decision-makers feeling disempowered to take measured, risk-based decisions.”

The Global Fund had planned to have an integrated information system in place for capturing, processing and sharing information at the Secretariat and country level during grant-making. The process to develop an automated system started in February 2014, with a projected completion date of February 2015. The OIG said that the completion date and other timeline extensions have not been met. Following further complications, the OIG added, the Secretariat commissioned an independent diagnostic review which identified significant project execution issues and resulted in a complete overhaul of this initiative.

As a result, the grant-making process depends on multiple stand-alone systems and tools into which the same data must be entered multiple times. The OIG said that this creates inefficiencies and the potential for errors. In addition, it said, the tools are not user-friendly and have functionality issues. For example:

  • Some in-country stakeholders have had trouble coping with the “heavy macros” embedded in the tools that require high bandwidth as well as high capacity computers to run. (The OIG said this was caused by the inadequate involvement of the information technology team in developing the tools.)
  • The capacity assessment tool cannot be used offline, which creates significant challenges for recipients where internet access is not reliable or readily available. The tool also lacks an auto-save functionality, resulting in the loss of data when tools crash or where there is an electricity outage. As a result, Secretariat staff and in country stakeholders spend considerable time re-entering lost information.
  • The operating systems on which the capacity assessment tool runs, Infopath, is not compatible with typical systems at country level, which slows the systems down.
  • Tools, such as the budget template, contained formula errors which result in the Secretariat and in-country stakeholders wasting time waiting for the bugs to be fixed. (The OIG said that the errors and bugs were due to the fact that the tools were not piloted before the full roll-out. In addition, technical support for the tools was limited because their usage was expected to be temporary.)

Stakeholders at both the Secretariat and country levels expressed a high degree of dissatisfaction with the grant-making tools. In a survey conducted by the OIG, 81% of respondents said the grant-making tools were ineffective. Respondents estimated that they spent 25% of their time dealing with tool-related matters. To reduce the issues they experience, most stakeholders have resorted to working off-line and then re-entering data online, which also is inefficient, the OIG said.

The OIG said the Secretariat missed an opportunity to learn from pilot test cases that were undertaken and to strengthen processes before rolling out the new model. It noted that the grant-making process was not allowed to stabilize before further changes were made and that, as a result, stakeholders had to continuously adapt to new changes in the process.

Secretariat responses

In response, the Secretariat said that as part of its differentiation project, it will consider various options in addressing the challenges, including: (a) tailoring the required documents for GAC decisions in line with size of portfolio and risk involved; (b) simplifying the grant-making processes for defined grants; and (c) allocating resources to support significant and high-risk portfolios when necessary. The target date for implementing the option or options is 31 December 2016.

With respect to the problems with the systems and tools, the Secretariat said that they were being addressed through Project AIM (Accelerated Integration Management). However, in the short term, the Secretariat will enhance the functionality of the existing grant-making tools – including the capacity assessment tool and the budget template – by fixing known functionality issues (target date: 31 December 2016).

See separate GFO article on the findings of the OIG audit with respect to risk management processes during grant-making. 

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