Initiative Aims to Limit Excessive Red Tape for African Science
Initiative Aims to Limit Excessive Red Tape for African Science

Initiative Aims to Limit Excessive Red Tape for African Science

Research organizations and universities have typically faced burdensome paperwork to convince funders their money would not be wasted.

Feb 4, 2019
Munyaradzi Makoni

ABOVE: At the Science Forum South Africa on December 12, 2018, organizers unveiled the Good Financial Grant Practice (GFGP). Pictured in the front row (left to right) are grant recipients who have trialled the GFGP, followed by Tom Kariuki, the director of programs at the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa at the African Academy of Sciences, Nelson Torto, the executive director of the African Academy of Sciences, Michael Kilpatrick, senior advisor to GFGP, Raymond Murenzi, director Rwanda Standards Board, and Berhanu Abegaz, former executive director of the African Academy of Sciences.
FLICKR, AFRICAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

For every grant his university won, Robin Drennan had to perform due diligence exercises—responding to a dozen queries from worried funders and certifying that the grant money won’t go to waste before it was released.

“In practice, it’s answering 500 questions,” he says. “Do you have a policy on corruption? Do you have a policy on nepotism, let me see it? Who are your board members?”

Each procedure was slightly different from the last and the requirements seemed to be ever-changing, he says.

“I got the sense that each party wanted to outdo the others with the biggest and best ‘due diligence’ exercise,” Drennan, the director of research development at Witwatersrand University in South Africa, tells The Scientist.

Drennan’s routine reflects a bureaucratic burden regularly experienced by grant seekers at universities, research institutions, and nongovernmental organizations across Africa before awards, particularly from funders in the Northern hemisphere, are released. But that is all set to change.

In December, the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) based in Nairobi, Kenya, launched the Good Financial Grant Practice (GFGP) to improve African research institutions’ grant management. The web-based tool, which outlines recipients’ policies safeguarding against financial abuse and corruption in the procurement process and ensuring the fair recruitment of workers, was unveiled on December 12 in Pretoria at the annual Science Forum South Africa.

Now, all Drennan has to do is point international funders of research to his university’s GFGP portal, where they can see a detailed view of governance and management processes.

“I fully believe that they will find this useful and thus it should go some way to helping reassure donors that their money is well used for the intended purpose,” Drennan says.

Isolated incidences of grant money that went unaccounted for in Africa have been reported in the past.

“The detail of the grantee responses to each of these clauses is very important to the grantor as they will use this information to form a judgement of the financial risk of the grantee and where they feel it is appropriate to include extra controls in their award letter to the grantee institution,” says Michael Kilpatrick, senior advisor to the GFGP at AAS.

Organizations seeking certification of their GFGP will be audited once by an independent audit firm and the certificate will be valid for three years, says Juliette Mutheu-Asego, AAS head of communications. Grantees’ grant management capabilities are benchmarked through a cumulative four-tier assessment—bronze, silver, gold, and platinum—reflecting their financial reliability.

Carine Kades, the operations and training manager at the Congolese Foundation for Medical Research in Brazzaville, writes in an email to The Scientist that the GFGP will help her organization secure grants beyond existing funders. “It is also a visibility portal for potential donors looking for partners in their field,” Kades says.

The GFGP was made in Africa, but can be used by the global grant community, Genny Kiff, senior advisor to AAS at the Wellcome Trust, explains to The Scientist in an email. The GFGP will make a significant contribution towards meeting some of the Grant Bargain Goals—an agreement between the biggest donors and humanitarian aid organizations in the world, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to get more research funds or financial aid into the hands of people in need, she says.

Registered with the Kenya-based African Organization for Standardization, the GFGP has been so far adopted by the Rwandan government and other grantees in Botswana and Uganda are in discussions about adopting it.

Mutheu-Asego says around 200 grantor and grantee organizations have trialed the system and a significant number of the “early adopter” grantors are anticipated sign up immediately.

“My one concern is that donors may not at first accept the tool in place of their ‘due diligence’ exercise,” says Drennan. “I believe this transformation may take a while, but will certainly take root eventually.”

The development of the tool was funded by the Wellcome Trust, United Kingdom Research and Innovation, UK’s National Institute of Health Research, and the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership.