The development community is eyeing the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria replenishment on Sept. 17 as a litmus test for aid under U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and the new head of the country’s Department for International Development, Priti Patel.
A number of civil society groups have focused their post-Brexit advocacy on the Global Fund and are pushing for London to remove a self-imposed cap of donating 10 percent of the total request. Yet many worry May’s trade-driven agenda and Patel’s track record as an aid skeptic could mean a funding cut, even as pressure for a generous contribution mounts from the aid community and other top donors, including the European Commission and Canada.
“Now, more than ever, we need to be demonstrating that we are an outward looking nation, which is determined to keep its commitments to the world’s poorest,” Ali Louis, political affairs adviser for Bond — a consortium of international aid groups in the U.K. — told Devex, speaking about the upcoming replenishment in Montreal, Canada.
As a founding member of the Global Fund, the U.K. shocked many in 2013 when it introduced a cap on contributions, limiting the pledge to 10 percent of the total request at 1 billion pounds ($1.46 billion).
“It has been done precisely to incentivise others and to make it clear that the fund will work best if it is supported by a broad donor base,” Justine Greening, the previous head of DfID said of the cap during a parliamentary hearing.
“Although we are a strong supporter of development and can be proud of our work, we want other countries to follow our lead, not lag behind,” she said.
The Global Fund, an international grant-making instrument founded by the Group of Eight in 2002, received less than $11 billion from donors worldwide for the 2014-2016 period, including $1 billion from the U.K. government. This year, the Global Fund is seeking $13 billion. Civil society groups are calling on the U.K. government to increase its pledge to £1.5 billion, about 14 percent of the total funding request.
A push for more support
When May was elected, many organizations published calls to action asking the new DfID chief to increase the U.K.’s contribution to the Global Fund to £1.5 billion and featured the pledge as a centerpiece in their lobbying strategies.
But some advocacy groups reported that DfID contacts have since advised them to reign it in. As she gets her bearings, the new DfID chief is “not keen on intense public advocacy at the moment” from civil society, as one government relations advocacy expert told Devex.
“We hope she’s just getting her feet under her, I’m sure there is a lot to take in and we can understand the pressure, I mean it’s going to be the first major announcement that DfID makes that will have May and Patel’s names on it,” they said.
DfID previously told aid groups it would announce its contribution to the Global Fund after the release of the Multilateral Aid Review. The MAR was originally due out in October 2015 but is currently “still pending,” a DfID spokesperson told Devex.
“We were quite confident the MAR would help our argument, if we had a good review for the Global Fund in the new MAR to point to,” the source said. DfID awarded the Global Fund positive reviews in the previous 2013 MAR, namely for its value for money and delivery in fragile states. Transparency organization Publish What You Fund also ranked the Global Fund in the top five in its 2016 Aid Transparency Index.
The introduction of the Ross Fund, a new 1 billion pounds ($1.32 billion) fund in the new U.K. aid strategy, which focuses on tackling malaria and developing vaccines “tropical diseases with epidemic potential” also has many wondering whether the new mechanism will affect the U.K.’s commitment to the Global Fund.
Asked how civil society might respond if the U.K. falls short of last year’s pledge of $800 million, the source said, “it would mean the Global Fund doesn’t hit [the goal] of $13 billion, and that would be extremely disappointing.”
“It’s hard to say how we would respond to DfID after that,” the source said. “I mean, we have to continue working with them, so we have to keep that in mind in our response.”
A last minute call
Sources working directly with DfID say the donor is putting off announcing its pledge until the replenishment event itself. The U.K. plans to be among the last major donors to contribute, they said.
“DfID told us the delay is because the G-20 [meetings] will play a role in the decision, so they’re going to wait until the very last minute,” one U.K. nonprofit executive told Devex on condition of anonymity because of the same pressure from DfID to limit comments on the replenishment.
“The [G-20] meetings will give them a chance to mull over the other [country] contributions,” they said.
Some other large donors are already urging the U.K. to give generously. Several sources told Devex Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, is rumored to have highlighted the Global Fund replenishment as a priority in his first phone call with May in June.
Neither the prime ministers of the U.K. or Canada responded to requests for comment, and a spokesperson for the Global Fund said they could not confirm the claims, “However, we can say that Prime Minister Trudeau is actively leading the replenishment effort, and encouraging broad support from all partners.”
The nonprofit executive added, “Canada has put themselves on the line by hosting the pledging conference, they do not want host a summit that doesn’t reach the replenishment target.”
Canada, the European Commission and Italy have announced increases of more than 20 percent in their contributions this year. This mounting international pressure, coupled with enthusiastic and star-studded lobbying from civil society has resulted in more consultation between DfID the Home Office, the source added.
“The replenishment this year is very tied up with No. 10,” the executive said, referencing the prime minister’s residence on No. 10 Downing St. She added that the pledge has been “much more political” than in previous rounds.
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