February 8, 2013

Fired For a Job Well Done – Former Global Fund IG Appeals His Termination

By Marlene Koury

John Parsons, the Inspector General of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria since 2008, was recently fired allegedly for “unsatisfactory performance,” despite receiving industry-wide praise for rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the Global Fund’s programs.  The Global Fund is a $20 billion dollar fund set up to provide assistance to countries that lack the resources to combat these serious diseases on their own.  Parsons, who as Inspector General was the organization’s chief watchdog over waste and corruption, is appealing his termination decision before the International Labour Organization Administrative Tribunal in Geneva, Switzerland.  He also filed a claim before the Tribunal alleging that the news release the Global Fund issued on his termination was defamatory. 

During Parsons’ tenure, the Global Fund’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found many instances of fraud and abuse in the organization’s grants to various countries.  Specifically, the OIG uncovered numerous grants that were subject to corruption through forged documents, faulty bookkeeping and even the diversion of prescription drugs to the black market.  Parsons’ value to the Global Fund was well recognized by the organization.  In September 2011, the Global Fund praised Parsons’ work with the OIG, noting that “the OIG has been the only risk-mitigation strategy within the Global Fund that has worked as designed.”   The Global Fund emphasized that it had “enormous respect for the positive impact the OIG’s work has had on securing the organization’s investments.” Despite this recognition, the Global Fund fired Parsons a little more than a year later.

The reason for his firing seems to be that Parsons found too much waste and corruption.  His role in ferreting out these problems reportedly cost the Fund some significant financial support after certain large donors, such as Germany and the European Commission, temporally withheld funding.  The United States is a major donor to the Global Fund, having pledged $1.3 billion in 2012 alone.  The U.S. has yet to withhold funding, but the Global Fund’s decision to terminate Parsons may put that funding at risk.  Under The Leadership Act, Congress may not release these funds unless the Secretary of State certifies that the Global Fund maintains an independent OIG.  Parsons’ firing may raise questions as to whether the OIG is truly independent or whether Parsons was retaliated against for uncovering serious problems within the organization. 

There seems to be a sentiment that it was the latter.  Indeed, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) strongly criticized Global Fund’s decision to fire Parsons.  Michael Weinstein, President of AHF, said that “[i]t appears that John Parsons has been fired merely for doing his job too well. This is a very dark day for the Global Fund and accountability in development funding in general.”  Tom Meyers, AHF’s general counsel echoed the sentiment, saying that “[t]he only way Mr. Parsons’ efforts could be considered unsatisfactory is if the Board felt he had not found enough waste, fraud, and abuse in Global Fund programs. It is more likely the opposite is true; the Fund was uncomfortable having its shortcomings so exposed.”

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