In February 2013, Siri Gedde-Dahl, a journalist with Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper, investigated corruption in a REDD project in Tanzania funded by Norway. In a recent Aftenposten article, Gedde-Dahl reports that Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, the Tanzanian NGO that was running the project, has collapsed.
In addition to Norwegian funding, the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania received money from the aid budgets of the UK, Finland, Denmark, and the USA. Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania was the designated national partner of Birdlife International. It was also a partner organisation of World Land Trust, which notes on its website that, “WCST has strong links with local and national authorities and boasts the Tanzanian President as one of its patrons.”
In September 2012, Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania’s links with national authorities were strengthened when Philemon Luhanjo took over as chairman and chief executive officer of WCST. Luhanjo is a close associate of Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete, and was previously secretary general of the Presidential Office and the President’s spokesman.
Funnily enough, five years ago, Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania was one of the founding members of the “Mama Misitu” campaign aimed at tackling corruption in Tanzania.
Here is a rough translation of Siri Gedde-Dahl’s Aftenposten article (any corrections to the translation are welcome!).
President’s men took over, Norwegian aid money disappeared
Norwegian authorities paid US$1.2 million to the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania. Much of this can not be explained. Five countries are now investigating the environmental organisation.
Environmental projects to the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST) have collapsed. The money is gone, the employees have resigned or been dismissed, and WCST is technically bankrupt. The money for the business came from the Norwegian, Finnish, Danish, British and American aid budgets.
In September 2012, Philemon L. Luhanjo took over as chairman and chief executive officer of WCST. He has been one of President Jakaya Kikwete closest associates for many years.
Flow of money stopped
Norway gave NOK 25 million for a project to protect the Pugu-Kazimzumbwi forest area outside Dar es Salaam. In 2012, cash flow was halted, after 6.8 million was paid, because accounting and audit reports were not delivered as agreed. In February 2013, Norway stopped all further cooperation with the WCST.
The embassy ordered an investigation by the audit firm Baker Tilly & Co. That was available on 24 May and gave clear indications of misuse of money. WCST was given until 13 June to comment on the audit, but has not responded.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will not disclose the audit report. However, Merja Mäkelä, the Finnish Counsellor, and Torbjørn Eriksen of the Danish Outdoor Council, both point out that the Norwegian report confirms that there are clear indications of financial irregularities in the WCST. The two are involved in other WCST projects, and await their own investigations.
Before Philemon Luhanjo became WCST-chairman, he was secretary general of the Presidential Office and the President’s spokesman. Luhanjo left the government apparatus after a corruption scandal, with strong accusations against him. Officially, he did not leave because of the scandal.
Before that, Luhanjo was Secretary of the Tanzanian Ministry of Environment, which was for several years involved in a corruption case with Norwegian aid money.
But Luhanjo is not the only one in the WCST to arrive from high up in the state apparatus. Deo-Gratia Gamassa who was general manager of the WCST until he resigned quite recently, previously retired from a department head position in the Ministry that Luhanjo led.
Gamassa’s successor, Rawson Yonazi, was also a former employee of the Ministry of Environment under Luhanjo. The majority of the employees in the WCST actually came from medium to higher positions in the central administration. Now, most have left or been dismissed due to the difficulties.
Artificial civil society
NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are used as an alternative to government budget aid. Because NGOs represent civil society, several donor countries dislike that it is “the president’s men” who govern.
Merja Mäkelä, Counsellor at the Finnish Embassy in Tanzania, said that the WCST was not dominated by so many former government officials in 2010-2011, when the Finns took the decision to support WCST’s projects. She is not comfortable with the fact that the WCST has been ‘taken over’ by former government officials.
“Civil society should represent real blocks of opinion in a population. When civil society is reduced to a privilege, that those in power hand out to loyal supporters, it undermines the very idea of why a civil society is important,” says researcher Asle Toje in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo.
He notes that a number of researchers have described how Western-funded organisations in developing countries creates a false civil society.
“It does not serve the purpose of NGOs: To be a corrective to the authorities.”
Toje believes it is difficult for Norway to criticise others because the Norwegian government strongly supports Norwegian NGOs with state money.
“Not the way it works”
Chairman Philemon Luhanjo did not in the first place respond by phone, SMS or email. CEO Rawson Yonazi agreed to receive questions by email, but when he read them, he said he has “no authorisation to comment”. He refers to Luhanjo. After a few days Luhanjo answers the phone from Aftenposten.
“I can not comment. I have not seen the email. I’m travelling. I can not say anything because I am still in dialogue with the embassy.”
“But the embassy says you have not answered the questions about the audit report?”
“No, no. I cannot comment. It’s not the way it works, madam!” Luhanjo says before he breaks off the conversation.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Will demand money back
Hans-Jakob Arnestad at the Foreign Ministry says Norway will demand money back for “insufficiently documented expenses”.
Norway has allocated NOK 25 million for conservation measures in the forests near Dar-es-Salaam, and paid 6.8 million. Measures for sustainable use of forest and alternative livelihoods for local people had fizzled out into vandalism and nothing. Protection of the forest had unravelled and the forest was partially burnt down.
The project office, built with Norwegian money was destroyed and is now abandoned.
According to Arnestad the door is not closed for a police matter, but Norway will first consult with the Tanzanian authorities to see how the matter can be resolved.
Doubtful crow project
Several of the projects to the WCST collapsed even before the donor countries turned the money tap again. A project to reduce the crow population, supported by the United States, Denmark and Finland, is in default. The Indian House Crow is an alien, unwanted species in Tanzania. With its huge population it creates a major environmental problem.
According to a report, field visits to crow traps in May showed that “management had reduced the operation only to be a way to spend money, and not really to try to solve the crow problem.” Finland stopped the flow of money after 800,000 NOK, and the message is clear from the Finnish Counsellor Merja Mäkelä:
“WCST is entirely without means, and owes us money. We’re not going to fund them any more.”
The Danish Outdoor Council has transferred 1.2 million Danish kroner to a WCST project on environmental education in schools, which is mainly implemented. But the Danish Outdoor Council opted out of further cooperation.
Birdlife International had several large joint projects with WCST. It has also opted out of all further cooperation and asked WCST to account for their spending.
Merja Mäkelä says it is rare for Tanzanian authorities to prosecute such cases. Anyway it takes a very long time.
“And very powerful people sit in the WCST,” she reminds us.
The link to the president no problem for embassy
“There is nothing negative in former top people from environmental authorities managing organisations or being on the boards and doing volunteer work,” Inger Naess, Counsellor at the Norwegian Embassy in Tanzania, told Aftenposten in January.
She thought it was quite unproblematic that former senior officials from the government, Tanzanian environmental authorities are controlling WCST, and confirmed that the Norwegian embassy knew this right from the start. Naess said that Gamassa has been one of several main contacts for the embassy.
“The pension age here is 60, and it is good and natural that resourceful people are contributing. If you have previously worked in the ministry that does not disqualify you from managing an NGO that receives Norwegian aid money,” Naess said.
As the suspicion of financial irregularities has been strengthened in recent months, Aftenposten asked again whether the embassy believes the link to the government apparatus is problematic. The embassy had nothing to add.
UPDATE – 16 July 2013: REDD-Monitor received some corrections to the translation, which have been inserted.