Donor stops funding lawyers By JOSEPH MWAMUNYANGE (email the author) Your Email Message Send Cancel Posted Saturday, February 28 2009 at 12:19 A Dutch financier suspended its funding to the Lawyers Environmental Action Team over alleged mismanagement of funds some three years ago, it has just emerged. The withdrawal of financing has left the organisation in dire straits. Novib withdrew its funding to the lobby after one of its workers allegedly stole more than Tsh80 million ($61,000) from its coffers. The lobby has been particularly vocal on inequities in the Tanzanian mining sector. Thur de Kuijer, Novib programme officer for East Africa, told The EastAfrican from Amsterdam, We stopped funding the lawyers organisation in 2006 when there was a case of fraud. We would have liked to continue but this wasnt possible after the groups board refused to heed our advice. Novib had advised the environmental lobbys board to restructure the NGO because the set-up then had inherent weaknesses, especially in accounting. And while Novib stopped funding Leat, other donors continued to provide funds, with Ford Foundation giving $35,000 for a disaster management project. Some $13 million was received from the Joint Oxfam Livelihood Initiative in Tanzania for developing case studies for economic empowerment of artisanal miners. The World Resources Institute provided $3,000 while $1,000 came from the Friends Foundation. The Joint Oxfam Livelihood Initiative had also promised to grant $35,000 for an annual mining conferenceto be run by the NGO. It was also receiving funding from the Foundation for Civil Society. The funding agency said it was surprised that the group had decided not to take legal action at the time. Investigations by The EastAfrican have revealed that Novib was supposed to have provided a grant of 375,000 Euros ($) to the lobby at the time the funding was stopped. A long-serving member of LEAT and well-known lawyer activist, Tundu Lissu, told this newspaper that what happened was a pure case of theft by a worker, In this case, the person we had entrusted with the NGOs coffers took advantage of the accounting weaknesses and stole some Tsh89 million ($68,000). Mr Lissu said that the amount involved could turn out to rather larger than this after auditing is completed. The issue was also raised at a recent meeting in Oslo, and I had to explain as to what transpired. Responding to the question of restructuring LEAT, Mr Lissu said the organisation was a small entity that could not operate using a structure similar to those used by big institutions. If the restructuring Novib are talking about means having a fully fledged accounts department, that isnt possible. But we have already reorganised the way we handle our accounts, said Lissu. The NGO has been at the forefront of wanting more transparency and accountability in the mining sector. We have since changed the way we handle money matters at LEAT. We instituted financial regulations such that a member of the board and a representative from management are now joint signatories, instead of the previous system where the person who stole the money was the only signatory, said Mr Lissu. Since the theft, the organisation has written official letters to introduce the new signatories to the companys bankers and put in place a call back system for checking withdrawals of money from its accounts. The lobby was also forced to enter into an agreement with the National Social Security Fund, after it was discovered that the former finance manager hadnt been submitting remittances plus penalty. The board chairman of LEAT, Dr Hamudi Majamba, told The EastAfrican that issues to do with the theft were discussed by the board and the person concerned relieved of his duties. Hamudi said that there were legal issues that needed to be attended to, and most of our donors asked us a lot of questions after this happened. Some even held back their funding. However, some have come back. The former worker, Bujiku who was a finance and grants manager, was accused of having forged documents, transferred money into his private accounts, bought airline tickets for his girlfriend, purchased a Toyota Land Cruiser and bought a large house on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. In its bid to recover the stolen money, the organisations board confiscated the bungalow in Boko, Dar es Salaam. LEAT also received Tsh5 million ($4,000) cash from the former manager as part of the recovery measures. Prior to putting the confiscated property up for sale, the management decided hire qualified real estate valuers to make an assessment of its value. The senior communications officer of the Ford Foundation in New York, Joe Voeller, told The EastAfrican that a central part of the Ford Foundations work in East Africa is exploring the strong connections among natural resources, the environment, and the economic health of communities. He said LEAT has been an important partner in this work, as it gives poor rural communities a stronger voice in the management of natural resources on which their livelihoods and survival depend. It is still the only Tanzanian organisation that combines rigorous research, advocacy, and public interest litigation to address the intersection of environment, human rights, social justice and sustainable development, Mr Voeller said. The stolen funds were not connected in any way to our grants. Nonetheless, we take any instance of financial mismanagement by our grantees very seriously. With our support, LEAT took a series of important steps to safeguard against similar incidents, he said. According to Mr. Voeller, the lobby group is now using software called QuickBooks, which tracks the use of funds, from the initial expense request to final disbursement. Mr Voeller added, The Ford Foundation also gave a grant to an organisation that specialises in institutional development to work with LEAT to strengthen its governance, board practices and overall management. LEAT insiders say key people in the lobby group have passed on while others have gone on to pursue other careers. We were supposed to employ an environmental scientist, qualified advocates and a public relations officer, as advised by the board, but this hasnt been possible because of financial constraints, they said, adding that lack of resources was hindering staffing capacity. One member said, We soon wont be able to pay salaries as donors are mostly interested in funding our activities and not in the running of our office. The East African - Donor stops funding lawyers Did anyone see this story? I've heard Tundu Lissu does good work. Any JF members out there know anything bout this piece?