On Giving and Receiving
Approved, Quaker Peace Network—East Africa
March 19, 2006, Tororo, Uganda
I know that I am corrupt, but who is corrupting me?
Sese Seko Mobutu, former President of Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
The issue of wealthier Quakers from the northern countries giving funds to Quakers in the Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is fraught with difficulties. Too often these funds have been unaccounted for, misused, and/or stolen. Traditionally the blame has been put on the African implementers, but the northern donors who have so quickly written off these losses as “that’s the way Africa is” are also part of the problem. There are more than enough Quaker organizations led by honest African Quakers that receive, spend, and account for their funds with scrupulous honesty that there is no need to “excuse” those who are unaccountable and dishonest. Each time funds are misused in Africa, it is the honest Quaker implementers who are hurt the most since the errors of the few tarnish the image of all. Money can lead to conflict so the proper use and accountability of funds is a peace-making activity.
There are various levels of corruption:
- Outright theft of funds for personal use.
- Misuse of funds for purposes other than those indicated in the proposal, including unauthorized “borrowing” of funds from another program.
- Waste of funds without using them as prudentially as possible because they are given by wealthy people from overseas.
- Lack of accountability for funds received which usually is used to hide one of the above misuses.
To rectify this situation guidelines for responsibilities of both donors and implementers are needed.
- Funds are given only to a recognized organization with a valid bank account. Funds are never sent to an individual’s bank account or given to implementers to carry back from overseas because this forecloses transparency. Even in the case of a scholarship, funds should be sent directly to the institution or routed through a dependable organization.
- In order to qualify for funding, the donor must receive a proposal from a recognized organization which has passed the proposal at a Board meeting of the responsible people. This proposal should include a detailed budget. Donors should have a clear format for the proposal. A neutral person, knowledgeable about the country and type of proposal, should review it with an onsite visit. Over-budgeting, currency transactions, over-pricing, hiking of salary beyond those normally accepted, and vague or unclear line items should be thoroughly questioned. The proposal including purpose, timeline, budget, and delivery of funds is public information.
- After funds are sent, monthly or quarterly program and financial reports should be regularly received. In these days this can easily be done by email anywhere in the region. No further funding should be sent until such reports have been received and accepted as proper.
- At the end of the proposal period, a final report and financial accounting must be submitted. There should then be another on-site visit by a neutral observer who should verify the accounting by looking at the bookkeeping and receipts to back it up. This protects not only the donor but also protects the implementer from any charges of mis-management of the funds.
- This implies that small donations are difficult to monitor and verify. Consequently it is advisable that those who are unable to make the appropriate site visits by neutral observers channel their funds through organizations that have this capability, allocating a proper amount for this administrative task.
- When theft, misuse, wastage, or unacceptable accounting is encountered, the donor must pursue these problems with the same diligence they would use for a similar case in their home country. Corruption cannot be excused under any rationale. If a donor is not willing and prepared to follow-up such mis-conduct, it should not accept proposals and disperse funds.
- When theft, misuse, wastage, or unacceptable accounting is uncovered, the donor organization will discretely tell the other donor organizations of such problems so that implementing organizations are not able to move from one donor to another with impunity.
- Funds are requested only by an established organization for one of its priorities and have been approved by the appropriate Board of Directors. The organization must have mechanisms for handling and reporting funds including checks and balances with a trained treasurer.
- The proposal will be transparent and shown to all who are concerned with it for their input and approval. No paid professional fundraisers should be used.
- Those who are dispensing the funds must be as careful with these funds as they would be with their own. They must receive receipts for all transaction (and have their own signed receipts when this is not possible) and keep an accurate accounting of all these funds.
- If it is necessary to substantially change the budget of a proposal (meaning more than 5% or as specified in the proposal), prior approval of any such changes must be received from the donating organization.
- Written reports and financial reports will be sent on a regular basis as indicated in the proposal.
- The implementers of these funds will be welcoming and open for all on-site visits by anyone sent by the donating organization. All written and financial accounting will be open for inspection.
- If anyone in the implementing organization is financially irresponsible, the implementing organization will notify the donor and take whatever appropriate action is necessary with the offending individual.
If these guidelines of responsibility for both donors and implementers are faithfully adhered to, many of the problems which have been encountered in the past will be rectified. In the long term, this will build a much healthy relationship between donors in the North and implementers in Africa. The result should be not only a much more prudent use of the funds available, but a larger flow of funding.
Many thanks to Eden Grace for passing along these guidelines, which emerged from a meeting she participated in last week. She says that the first draft of these guidelines came from David Zarembka.
My own commentary (do not blame the writers of the document above) ...
I remember a meeting of Quaker partner organizations that one of my Friends United Meeting colleagues held at a retreat center in Africa, where a similar set of guidelines for FUM work was being discussed. As my colleague reported, the main resistance to the guidelines came from Western representatives, who felt that such rules were colonialist. One of the African participants pointed out that avoidance of such rules was a plague in Africa, from the central governments on down. Honesty and transparency in financial relationships were not colonialist impositions, but actually the only hope for progress. (I might add that they were also the only hope for recovering the middle-class intelligentsia among African Quakers, many of whom seem to have distanced themselves from Friends in disgust at the corruption and government enmeshment that had become far too common.)
My own additions to the guidelines, from a North American's point of view:
- Don't play the tired old game of simplistically choosing "good Africans" who can do no wrong, and "bad Africans" who can do nothing right, among ministry partners and constituency members. How do you know? Do you treat your personal circle of friends and colleagues this way at home? Africans have just as many complicated mixtures of ideals and compromises as anyone else! And that "good African" for whom you will collect money without proper safeguards, will become just as corrupt as you would become under the same circumstances. Genuine friendship can never be purchased, nor can you atone for colonialist atrocities of the past by lazy sentimentality today.
- Part of a more mature and egalitarian vision of donor/implementer relationship includes being willing to examine very carefully when money or materials are the right form of resource transfer. Money and equipment can change power relationships and create new inequalities, not to mention increasing the "metabolism rate" of a local economy to an unsustainable level. On the other hand, don't go too quickly to the sometimes insulting notion that your technical expertise is what's needed, since many local cultures already have far more indigenous wisdom and expertise than political space or financial resources to use it. There's no simple formula for any of these dilemmas; what I'm calling for is taking the time to build relationships and trust and spiritual integrity before letting those relationships become monetarized and bureaucratized with the language of "projects" and "proposals."
- Rule 5 for donors in the document above includes a huge principle that many individual donors apparently do not understand. We donors need to get it through our thick skulls that strong, ethical administration costs money and is worth it. To treat an organization as your private, cost-free bank, to transmit your precious, special money 100% to its destination as if by magic, is either ignorant or insulting. What makes your money so much more special than that of the others who must cover the costs of doing ethical business? Do you think that, without dedicated administrators, accountants, bankers, translators, etc., there would be a hope in hell of your money being useful? (I feel as if I've waited far too long to get that off my chest!)
- The organizational corollary: Don't appear to donors and potential donors to be a black box! Issue annual reports, make your financial reports easily available to the partner organizations as well as donors, report governance issues honestly and provide easy access to minutes of meetings. Model the practices you expect to see from your implementing partners. When I was at FUM, I felt that historically, we had not done much better than the groups who received our funds. My colleagues and I did our best to change that.