Sunday, March 04, 2012

Corruption Allegations Hit
WWF Programmes in Tanzania

Dar es Salaam — The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Tanzania is embroiled in a corruption scandal over the alleged misappropriation of Norwegian aid aimed at helping civil society organisations build capacity, Norwegian and WWF officials said.

When Norway's government learned of the irregularities it immediately suspended its funding to that project and to another $2.5-million REDD+ readiness project aimed at enhancing Tanzania's capacity to deliver data on forest carbon stocks, said Naess Inger, the Norwegian embassy counselor on environmental issues.

The Tanzania country director of the well-known conservation group has since resigned.

An external auditing firm, Ernest & Young, has been brought in to carry out an investigation into the problems, WWF officials said.

The auditing firm's initial report, seen by AlertNet Climate, suggests that a share of NOK 25 million (approximately $1.3 million) injected by Norway into a project called 'Strengthening Capacity of Environmental Civil Society Organizations' has disappeared.

REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation - is a U.N.-backed effort to protect tropical forests by having developed countries pay poorer countries to protect forest, in exchange for the richer countries receiving carbon emission reduction credits. REDD+ is a version of the effort that focuses on ensuring forest communities gain from such payments.

"We have suspended all further disbursements to the two projects while awaiting receipt of the probe report by Ernst& Young ... further decisions in line with our policy of zero tolerance of corruption will follow later," Inger said.

According to Inger, the four-year capacity building programme, which started in 2008, was aimed at empowering civil society organisations to help improve the contribution of fisheries, forestry and wildlife to national economic growth, poverty reduction and people's livelihoods.

She said investigations are ongoing to determine how a large sum of money disappeared and to assess whether internal controls in the WWF system should be improved.

A final report from the auditor is expected to be completed soon, she said.

The director of WWF-Norway, Rasmus Hansson, confirmed that "per diem" expenses are central to the auditor's investigation.

The allegations of fraud have emerged as part of an internal process, but stem from several sources, Hansson said in an email interview with AlertNet Climate. Suspicions were routinely reported on to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry's corruption unit, he said.

WWF-Norway has funded various types of training for Tanzanian environmentalists, including on lobbying political authorities. The courses offered have been organised by WWF-Tanzania, which was required to report back to WWF-Norway.

In December, the Norwegian Ambassador in Tanzania, Ingunn Klepsvikse, visited WWF-Tanzania to ask for documented evidence on the use of Norwegian taxpayers' money. During this visit, the envoy expressed concern about the management of the Norwegian support and reported that the financial books she was shown were not in order, Inger said.

According to Inger, the largest expense items in the capacity building program have been for external lecturers, event expenses at hotels and various allowances for seminar participants, as well as grants to activities of organisations and youth groups.

She said WWF will take responsibility for paying back to the government of Norway any funds that have disappeared, but insisted the setback will not stop REDD projects in Tanzania or elsewhere.

"Norway is committed to assisting countries like Tanzania to prepare for a future international REDD+ mechanism and (we) expect all our partners to demonstrate good levels of governance in the management of programmes (and) projects," Inger said in a statement, adding that, "while this kind of incident is regrettable, it should not prevent the many other valuable initiatives from progressing for the overall benefit of Tanzanians."

Amid mounting pressure, WWF's Tanzania country director, Stephen Mariki, resigned on Feb. 14.

Sources in Dar es Salaam said a high-level delegation from the WWF regional office in Nairobi visited the WWF Tanzania office and pressed Mariki to resign.

"I have not done anything wrong myself but since this scandal happened under my leadership there was no option than to step aside" Mariki said in an interview with AlertNet Climate, shortly after his resignation.

"I have taken the right decision for the sake of my own respect."

He blamed WWF-Norway for what he termed "blowing the issue out of proportion" while defending his record on fighting corruption as being in line with organisation policy.

According to Kimunya Mugo, the WWF Eastern and Southern Africa director of communications, the group has terminated the employment of eight people in connection with the fraud charges.

Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam,Tanzania

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