In a letter to colleagues, Karlo Boras, a Board member at the Global Fund (GF) to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, expressed his remorse for the dismissal of GF Inspector General John Parsons. Boras wrote the Board shortly after the International Labour Organization (ILO) Administrative Tribunal vindicated Parsons in a ruling issued February 3rd:
A few days ago we were notified that ILO Tribunal brought a judgment concluding that the Board of Global Fund unlawfully dismissed former IG Mr. John Parsons, set aside the decision of the Board and ordering to pay him damages and unpaid wages… Decision of the Tribunal number 3613 is clear and unambiguous, and it is up to us to face the implications of this decision and its consequences arising thereof.
…We now have a chance to ask who did this on our behalf and to express sincere public apology to Mr. John Parson hoping that this will alleviate to some extent injustice that we caused to him.
The ruling is over three years coming. Parsons, a client of Laurence C. Fauth and the Government Accountability Project (GAP), was terminated by the Board of the Global Fund (GF) on November 15, 2012, after reports he issued showed substantial corruption. When an organization fires an auditor or investigator, alarm bells typically sound, and so the Global Fund explained its decision in a press release posted on its website attributing Parsons’ dismissal to ‘unsatisfactory performance.’
In its ruling, however:
The Tribunal concludes that there was no reasonable justification for stating in the News Release that the complainant [Parsons] was terminated let alone that he was terminated for unsatisfactory performance.
According to the ILO Tribunal ruling, the Global Fund’s press release was a violation of Parsons’ confidentiality, damaging to his professional reputation, and issued in such a way that he was unable to defend himself.
The Tribunal attributes significant responsibility for Parsons’ unlawful dismissal to Graham Joscelyne, the Chair of the Audit and Ethics Committee (AEC) of the GF Board, but holds the entire Board responsible also:
By inserting himself into and, in effect, managing the 2012 assessment of the complainant’s [Parsons] performance, the AEC Chair [Joscelyne] clearly acted beyond the scope of the authority delegated to the AEC. It was also an abdication on the part of the Board of its obligation under the By-laws to assess the complainant’s performance.
The case illuminates a sinister reality at the celebrity-backed Global Fund. While governments and private foundations donate billions of dollars each year to fight preventable diseases in poor countries, there is little accountability for what happens to the funds. So when John Parsons tried to find out, he was fired.
As the Inspector General, it was Parsons’ job to investigate allegations of corruption and fraud in Global Fund grants. By 2011, he had found substantial corruption, and the reports he issued were damning. A number of donor governments withdrew funding, and the Global Fund terminated Parsons, citing unsatisfactory performance when, in fact, the opposite was true. Parsons did his job too well. The Board did not want to know about corruption, and in classic retaliatory fashion, shot the messenger while ignoring the message.
It is unclear whether the AEC – or the entire Global Fund Board – will respond to Boras’ letter, but the fact that he wrote it highlights a deficit in existing whistleblower protections at international organizations. While the policies state that retaliation is misconduct and subject to discipline, rarely is the retaliator held accountable for it. At best, the whistleblower is vindicated, as in this case, but thus far, no one has answered for the three-year ordeal visited on John Parsons.
The ILO Tribunal did, however, order the GF to remove from its website the press release concerning Parsons’ departure.