February 1, 2008
Papua New Guinea's National AIDS Council (NAC) has come under scrutiny following accusations that more than half a dozen senior officials there, including acting Director Romanus Pakure, have misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to help the country fight HIV/AIDS. Clements Malau, secretary of PNG's Health Department, said Wednesday the entire council organization will be investigated.
"We have contacted the police, auditor-general, and ombudsman," acknowledged Malau. "There are a range of issues and the whole system is under review, not just individuals."
According to newspaper reports, the allegations of misuse include falsification of purchase orders and checks, as well as a 1 million Kina (US $361,000) stationery purchase that never arrived. Council officials also allegedly spent the AIDS money on overseas travel and used work computers to view pornography.
Australia's AusAID, which last year gave the council $1.1 million (US $992,000) under a broader funding program to combat the disease in PNG, said in a statement it is "confident that no Australian government funds have been used inappropriately." "We have in place strict guidelines on how funds are to be used," the agency said. "This funding has been satisfactorily acquitted."
According to NAC's 2007 Estimation Report on the HIV Epidemic, PNG has seen a 30 percent increase in AIDS patients since 2005. As of December 2006, the country had a cumulative 46,725 HIV/AIDS cases.