Pate: How i lost global fund headship
Former Minister of State for Health and Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, came close to occupying the post of Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (or the Global Fund). After coming tops on merit, the selection team came under severe pressure to delist him. And they did. In this interview with Assistant Editor, CHUKWUMA MUANYA, Pate explains the intrigues.
The report shows that you just missed the opportunity of being the next Executive Director of Global Fund. You would have been the first Nigerian and African to head the organisation. What is your reaction to this?
Let me start by saying that I was highly honoured to have been considered to lead The Global Fund. In November 2016, I was approached by the Secretariat of the nine-member Executive Director (ED) Nominations Committee and “strongly encouraged” to express formal interest. I was also assured that the Board is looking for the next leader through a structured and fair competitive process. So, I expressed formal interest in early December 2016 and informed Nigerian leaders in the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
When I attended the first interview in London on January 27th, the selection committee opened by saying “we are committed to a merit-based, non-political process”. The list of applicants was then reduced from 127 global health leaders to 10-11 names.
We were then invited to the second interview on February 6th in London. After that interview, I was informed on February 7th that the Committee had selected us in the top three finalist candidates and that I was “ranked first, based on merit”.
Obviously, I was pleased and humbled to have had that consideration. On February 13th, the list of the three finalists was submitted to the wider 20-member Board of The Global Fund. Some people became surprised and unhappy that I was ranked first based on merit, so they leaked the report and manipulated New York Times to publish a smear article that twisted information to indicate I said things against President Trump when he was campaigning in 2015 and mid-2016.
Meanwhile, members of the ED Nominations Committee reaffirmed their ranking and proceeded to invite us to the final Board meeting in Geneva on February 27 so that a vote will take place between the two finalist candidates. In the interim, various efforts were made to instigate evidence and smear us, but were not successful. I have had people express to my face, “the problem is that you are Nigerian and there is concern about Nigerian big men.” Others brought the issue of my professed faith and how that will play out with certain constituencies of the fund.
When the Global Fund board met on 27, a couple of influential board members realised that on merit, one of the two finalists must be selected, but were uncomfortable because we did not conform to the narrow-minded expectations of the kinds of people to lead the Global Fund. These board members then blocked the Board from interviewing the finalist candidates, thereby truncating the selection process in a very unfair manner. This outcome is reflective of the dysfunctional nature of the Board and its lack of courage to stand up for its principles to be fair, nondiscriminatory and merit-based. Whenever the process is concluded, if they stick with political considerations over merit, the result will reflect in poor performance of the organisation in the long run.
The report highlighted concerns about alienating President Trump and allegations about conflict of interests; please throw more light?
The so-called concerns about alienating President Trump are a red herring. The Global Fund and other multilateral organizations are not on the most important policy priorities of the President. It is just a convenient narrative that people who have no other reason to oppose my candidacy are using to strike fear in the minds of others, just because of who I am. The United States has been a great supporter of global fight against Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Tuberculosis (TB) and malaria through various channels and with strong bipartisan support in the US congress.
To reduce entire US support on the three diseases to depend on a few posts by one individual during the last elections is putting the US support on a very narrow pedestal. Regardless of who leads the Global Fund, US government support to the three diseases is likely to continue.
Similarly, the so-called allegations of conflict of interests, because the incumbent serves on the Board of an organisation that I am affiliated with or that I advised Merck for Mothers on maternal health, are non-issues. I have been in global health for the last 25 years or so, after working in Nigeria, The Gambia, United States and many countries. I worked for the World Bank in more than 10 countries in Africa and East Asia and Pacific, worked with partners from New Zealand, Australia, European Union (EU), UK, US, France, Germany, Japan, Ireland and many others. Consequently, I have relationships with many people all over the world. Those relationships are valuable and could have helped the Global Fund itself.”
Is Nigeria still a contributing to the Global Fund?
At the outset of the Global Fund, Nigeria made an initial contribution, and in subsequent replenishments we had made various pledges. I do hope Nigeria will redeem its pledges to the Global Fund, as we have benefitted as country significantly from funds provided through the mechanism for fighting HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.”
How is Trump’s promise to cut foreign aid going to affect the Fund, should Nigeria and other developing nations be concerned?
I certainly hope the President’s promise to focus on US interests first will spare the Global Fund. Meanwhile, it will be wise for other developing nations also to put the lives, health and welfare of their peoples first by making sufficient investments in their own health sectors, rather than exist as supplicants always to the more developed countries.
You were accused of criticising President Trump via Twitter and calling him names. What is the true situation?
It is not true. The New York Times has itself corrected its story to reflect that I did not directly speak against President Trump. Moreover, as the president himself states, fake news is common these days…”
Do you have plans to reapply for the job? If yes or no, why?
The Global Fund decided to not make a decision on the final selection. In the coming months, we shall see how differently they wish to proceed in selecting the next executive director for the fund. If they pursue a search based on politics rather than merit, or in non-transparent manner, we can ultimately see the outcome not only in the person selected but also in the future performance of the fund. Posterity will be the ultimate judge of the quality of the decision of the Global Fund’s board.
Do Africans have any chance?
Africa is the future. Nigeria’s role in that future is great. Africans must continue to strive to excel in whatever role or wherever they find themselves.
Did the misappropriation and corruption charges against some of Nigerian agencies affect your chances?
I think as Nigerians, we need to always be mindful of the Nigerian brand. Building the Nigerian brand positively has lots of ways to pay dividend for the country and its citizens. Sometimes, it is not convenient for others to see Nigerians presenting counter narratives that is excellence-based and impact-driven. On those occasions, they make the same old arguments against the “Nigerian”. If we go by the past, it is not only Nigerians that will not be eligible; several countries will also become ineligible. In my own case, the Nominations committee did make enquiries and did not find rational reasons to not rank me as first in the process. It is the more irrational reasons that led to the current outcome.
Nigerians have not heard from you after you left office as the Minister of State for Health. What are you up to now?
Since leaving office during President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, I have pre-occupied myself in two blocks of activities: Nigeria and rest of the World. In Nigeria, I did set up a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) that is now working in six states on community engagement to increase demand for primary health care services. I have also continued to engage at local level politics in my state, because I firmly believe that we cannot stand idle to allow failed leadership ruin the present and future prospect of our country. At the global level, I spent time at two large Universities in the US and now leading an organisation that is investing to support countries build human capital by focusing on children and youth. The organisation is now supporting four key countries in Africa and expanding to others very soon. I have been quite busy in the last few years since leaving government, but making contributions to humanity in positive and fulfilling ways.