Several impoverished communities in southern Zambia are currently awaiting the outcome of a Finnish government investigation into allegations of fund mismanagement intended for constructing toilets and water supply.

The investigation stems from accusations of mishandling funds by the Global Dry Toilet Association of Finland (GDTF), an NGO headquartered in Tampere, Finland, designated to support four local NGOs in Zambia.

These funds were originally provided by Finland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA), which had entrusted GDTF with project ownership and management responsibilities on their behalf.

Local partners in Zambia included the Green Living Movement, Livingstone Green Initiative, Network for Environmental Concerns and Solutions and the Ukadzipalile Integrated Project.

Response from the Finnish Government

Eevamari Laaksonen, director of the Unit for Civil Society in the Department for Development Policy at Finland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs, replied to MakanDay's inquiry confirming that GDTF had been implementing the Zambia Dry Sanitation Country Programme using a discretionary government grant from Finland's MFA for development cooperation by civil society organisations (project-based support).

Laaksonen stated that in October 2023, potential misconduct in the project was identified, emphasising that the Ministry of Finance takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and promptly addresses any issues uncovered.

“The Ministry of Finance issued a decision on 3 October to immediately discontinue all payments of discretionary government grants awarded to GDTF,” said Laaksonen. “The Ministry wishes to ensure that it is doing its part in order to solve the case of misused government grant by GDTF.”

Laaksonen further elaborated: “Due to the gravity of the case, the Ministry of Finance filed are quest of the criminal investigation on October 4. Also, GDTF has filed its own request for criminal investigation on the case.”

Funds were typically disbursed quarterly, three times a year, but there was no disbursement in the last quarter of 2022, causing significant setbacks.

Cry of Zambian NGOs

The projects led by Zambian NGOs aim to achieve universal access to adequate sanitation and hygiene, with a target to eliminate open defecation by 2030 and address the specific needs of women, girls, and vulnerable populations.

Andrew Kabwe, director of Livingstone Green Initiative, explained that in 2021, his organisation and three others entered into a four-year contract with Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This agreement permitted Zambian NGOs to access Finnish government funding through a local Finnish agency, GDTF.

Highlighting the importance of the organisation's partnership with Finland since June 2013, Kabwe pointed out that during this period, they have achieved significant progress across Kazungula, Livingstone, and Mpulungu districts.

“In the past four years alone, we've erected over 701 dry toilets, drilled boreholes, installed water systems in schools, engaged in tree planting, and conducted capacity-building activities, benefiting over 10,000 people," Kabwe explained.

He explained that funding became inconsistent in the third quarter of 2022, which forced his organisation to suspend projects in several communities.

Green Living Movement

Another affected organisation is the Green Living Movement, which has partnered with Finland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs since 2000.

Emmanuel Mutamba, team leader, told MakanDay that the success of the phase one of the Zambia Dry Sanitation Country Programme, launched in 2017, prompted the Finnish government to approve its second phase, scheduled from 2021 to 2024.

"The initial phase of 2021 progressed smoothly, but challenges with fund disbursement began towards the end of 2022," he noted.

Funding delays have forced the NGOs to suspend community projects and terminate workers’ contracts involved in these projects to avoid accumulating debts with both workers and government agencies.

The NGOs report that the funding setbacks have profoundly impacted their operations, leaving them with unfinished projects and debts owed to communities.

Slow progress in investigations

It appears that Zambian NGOs will need to wait a bit longer for the investigations to conclude before they can begin constructing toilets and water supplies.

“The Ministry wishes to ensure that the matter is expedited as quickly as possible, but it is important to clarify that in Finland, the Finnish Police are responsible for conducting investigations,” said Laaksonen.