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Thursday, February 09, 2012

A failure of accountability

The Minister for Equalities has announced that the Government report on AWEMA, will not be published until 4pm today, after all Assembly Committees have finished their meetings for the recess. The next meeting of Plenary, where AMs might wish to scrutinise the Government on this report will take place on Tuesday 21 February, 12 days from now. That is very convenient for the Government.

As yet we do not know what the report will say but the questions are stacking up, not least due to the discovery by a Welsh Liberal Democrat researcher of the 2004 report into AWEMA, in the Assembly library.

That report concluded that no further funding is provided to Awema for new projects until Awema is able to verify that it has taken a systematic approach to project and performance management. It was also critical of the civil service oversight and scrutiny of the projects, saying: "The primary concern regarding the role of the Equality Policy Unit (EPU) was the lack of scrutiny and performance appraisal exercised throughout all three projects."

When an urgent question was tabled in Plenary yesterday afternoon, the Minister clearly did not want to be there and effectively stonewalled all questions about what the Welsh Government had done with these recommendations. Ministers have set in chain a lengthy process, and they are not going to be deviated from it, no matter how embarrassing or difficult things get. It is not clear how long they will be able to hold that line.

Now, further evidence has emerged that the Government were warned about AWEMA, this time in 2007. The Western Mail says that a former chair resigned five years ago after alleging that its chief executive was awarding himself unauthorised pay rises:

Documents seen by the Western Mail show that on July 2, 2007 the acting chairman of Awema, Mr PK Verma, resigned, together with two other trustees.

In a letter to a senior Welsh Government official, Mr Verma, who has since died, alleged that attempts by him to call a special meeting of Awema’s trustees had been thwarted. He had wanted the meeting to discuss “the remuneration of the director [Naz Malik], in particular the authorisation of salary and pension increases that had never been before the board” as well as “the management and supervision of the director”.

Explaining why he and two other trustees were resigning, Mr Verma wrote: “... we have all come to the conclusion that it may be better to resign and leave the Assembly to sort out what is a most unsatisfactory situation.”

AWEMA may be an independent charity but Ministers also have responsibilities here and it is time they faced up to them and started answering the very many questions that have arisen.

Update: The report has been published and it is absolutely damning. In summary the Minister's statement says that her investigation has identified significant and fundamental failures in the control and governance framework within AWEMA:

• Governance arrangements in relation to management and to the AWEMA Management Board of Trustees;
• Financial controls and processes;
• An absence of key policies and procedures; and
• An organisational structure that does not adequately support the operations of AWEMA.

She continues; In light of the current control framework the report concludes that it cannot provide any assurance that there are appropriate arrangements in place to safeguard and make proper use of the Welsh Government, WEFO and Big Lottery funds entrusted to AWEMA.

In light of this, Dr Rita Austin, Chair of AWEMA has been informed that funding for AWEMA under the Advancing Equality Fund is terminated with immediate effect. In addition Dr Austin has been informed that the three ESF Convergence agreements with AWEMA have also been terminated. WEFO’s Project Inspection & Verification Team will carry out an immediate review of the eligibility of expenditure for EU funding under these projects and will expect the full co-operation of AWEMA in completing this work. Action will be taken to consider whether grant funding should be reclaimed.

The Welsh Government will continue to liaise closely with South Wales Police and the Charity Commission, and provide them with any help it can in fulfilling their responsibilities in relation to AWEMA.

In taking these decisions, very careful consideration has been given to the need to protect participants in the ESF Convergence projects as far as is possible. WEFO has approached AWEMA’s co-sponsors to consider what alternative arrangements might be put in place. The co-sponsors have indicated a willingness and ability to work with WEFO to make arrangements to safeguard the position of people benefitting from the AWEMA led projects. I will make match funding available to the co-sponsors to help support the continuity of programmes.

The First Minister and I, along with the Permanent Secretary, consider that there now needs to be a full and thorough independent review of the history of the funding of AWEMA by the Welsh Government.

It is appropriate that the Wales Audit Office should carry this out and I can confirm that they have agreed to undertake this review. The Permanent Secretary is in the process of agreeing the scope of the review with the WAO.

Well written article and I fully agree with the points you make. I think it is very shameful that the Chair of AWEMA keeps attempting to deflect any concerns by more or less saying they are politically motivated. Keep up the good work in highlighting this very serious matter. I have in the past worked in a Welsh charity where bullying and harassment were rife it is a horrible situation to be in. Sometimes there were some good Trustees, but mostly there were crafty employees who would encourage their friends to apply to be on the board so that they could manipulate these Trustees to their advantage.
I agree with you about the timing of the release of this report. It is so serious that perhaps an emergency meeting needs to be called for.
Hang about. The report is out today which will clarify the issues. It seems that too many people are eager to cast judgement when the full facts haven't even had a proper airing! Is is too much to ask for to have a bit of objectivity from our politicians today? Some of the political mischievmaking that has been made over this has been rather shameful. You can't play politics with people's jobs and lives. Plus, I have to say that I thought the current Chair of Awema (Dr Rita Austin) was actually pretty good on Dragons Eye the other night despite being barracked by the interviewer in a most outrageious way.
Another Dragon's Eye tonight 11.35 Duration: 30 minutes

Join Felicity Evans as she takes a fresh look at politics through the Dragon's Eye, including the Welsh government's decision on allegations of financial corruption at troubled equalities body AWEMA.

I don't agree with what Anonymous number two said about political mischief making. (I think that's what they meant by their spelling?)
So what do they think then? That everyone should keep quiet even though there have been several opportunities since 2003 to investigate AWEMA. Well done to the politicians in all parties for keeping this in the spotlight. Who else can speak out for the concerned people of Wales.
In the light of the latest news, does anyone know if those involved and mentioned in the allegations of financial corruption are still being allowed access to the AWEMA offices? In most organisations where there has been even a whiff of allegations, good HR practice means that you keep employees or trustees that might be involved in any pending investigations away from the workplace. This is for their own benefit as well as the organisation as they might have access to documentation and records that might be required for any pending or potential investigation.”
I also don't understand how the Chair of the Trustees managed to get a considerable amount of money for work for the charity? I know for a fact you have to jump through hoops with the charity commission to pay any trustee money for work, let alone the fact that this was the Chair. You have to prove there is no other suitable candidate that can do the work. I presume they communicated with the charity commission on this?
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