Pastor to Sue His Charity’s ‘Hijackers’

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The strange case in which local and international donors have allegedly colluded to hijack local charity Christ Disciples Fellowship (CDF) is going to result in legal action, according to founder Pastor Pascal Hakizimana. Hakizimana yesterday said he has already consulted his lawyers and will be laying charges of fraud and theft against the people involved. The dispute surrounding Hakizimana and his former donors raises troubling questions about the proper role, function and powers of donors to charities and other non-governmental organisations. Smear tactics, skulduggery at the bank, coercive attempts to subject Hakizimana to unwarranted lie detector tests and xenophobic undertones in the local media have marked the battle for control of the charity, according to the pastor. Much was made of the fact that he is a Burundian refugee in the media, with the hidden sub-text that he therefore probably has no legal rights anyway, Hakizimana claims. His former donors perhaps also hoped to capitalise on the precarious nature of his refugee status to ride roughshod over him. Here they however appear to have miscalculated because Hakizimana says he is ready to fight them in court. Unsubstantiated allegations of child molestation and theft of donor funds have periodically appeared in the media, but his supposed accusers never laid any charges with the police. The repeated allegations of paedophilia against Hakizimana were mostly limited to one newspaper, at least raising the possibility that someone might have maliciously planted the story, he said. The reports would make the charge of child molestation but then in the same breath report the Namibian Police and the Women and Child Protection Unit categorically stating no one ever laid a charge. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare is also reported to have investigated the charge and found it to be without merit. A new charity backed by his former donors, who Hakizimana accuses of trying to usurp his overseas donors and the assets of his charity, unexpectedly issued a statement in October also giving Hakizimana a clean bill of health. A newspaper report quotes the organisation saying, “No evidence exists that he sexually molested any child at the Centre or any other place.” The CDF charity started out with modest donations from local companies ProWealth and Hertz, as well as the Pionierspark Dutch Reformed Church. The founder of the charity says relations with the donors were initially good, but tensions soon arose because of the donors’ alleged demands for representation on the board. Their argument was that they could more effectively assist the charity with seats on the board. He however resisted these demands, saying they could still play an important role without being directly involved in the running of the charity. “We had our own Board, but we did not refuse advice,” says Hakizimana. He also proved to be a formidable fundraiser, raising significant amounts of money and donations in kind from overseas donors. It appears things in fact only turned really ugly once big money became involved. His biggest success was the promise of a N$7-million donation from overseas for the charity to build its own new centre on land he negotiated for from the Windhoek Municipality, Erf 1661 at Goreangab. His fatal mistake was to introduce the local donors to his main facilitator for overseas donations, Pieter van den Dries of the Netherlands. Suddenly, he alleges, the local donors started having their own secret meetings with Van den Dries behind his back. To him it seems quite clear that as soon as big money became involved, they felt they no longer wanted him in charge of the charity. He says he would have been quite happy to accept them withdrawing their money from his charity, and deciding to create their own charity from scratch. “Katutura has many needy children, they can go ahead and create their own charity,” he says. What he however cannot accept is the attempt to illegally hijack a charity he created through his own vision, hard work and dedication. He strongly objects to a report in one newspaper, describing him as the “disputed director” of the Centre, asking by whom he is disputed. He says the legally constituted board of Christ Disciple Fellowship, of which his former donors were never members, does not dispute his appointment as director, nor has it dismissed him. Board member Olive Shumba yesterday confirmed the board has not dismissed Hakizimana. Hakizimana is unhappy with the alleged diversion of N$320 000 in charitable donations intended for Christ Disciples Fellowship into the account of a new charity masquerading as CDF. He alleges the name of the new charity, the Children’s Development Foundation, is not a coincidence but a deliberate attempt to fraudulently misrepresent it as CDF by trading on the same abbreviation. Hakizimana further contends that in order to facilitate the diversion of funds officials of the new charity made deliberate misrepresentations at Standard Bank’s Gustav Voigt branch. He further questions the legality of Standard Bank closing CDF’s bank account at the Gustav Voigt branch without any mandate from the charity’s Board, or the authorised signatories to the account. The pastor alleges the former donors are responsible for the closing of the account, after which they opened another account into which they put money intended for his charity. He says he has documentary proof of this in a contradictory foreign currency report at the bank, showing “Child Development Fund” as the beneficiary but “Pascal” as the contact person. The document raises questions about why it should quote him as the contact person of an organisation that supposedly dismissed him, and that even has a different name from the one he originally founded. CDF is a charity founded by Hakizimana to serve orphaned children, vulnerable children of parents who cannot afford to feed them and street children. The organisation was renting the premises Shalom Centre 2 from the Scripture Union of Namibia (SU) in Windhoek’s Goreangab township under a lease only scheduled to expire in July 2007. The CDF founder went on leave to Zimbabwe in August last year, but says his return to Namibia was delayed after being involved in a car accident in Zimbabwe. CDF activities were still in progress when he left for Zimbabwe, and he left for his holiday confident the charity was safe in the hands of seven volunteers employed at the Centre. On his return from Zimbabwe in early December, he heard reports from volunteers that the landlord had chased them, as well as all the children, from the premises. When he approached an official of the Scripture Union to tell him the charity would resume its activities in early January, the SU representative did not inform him about any cancellation of the rental contract. Only now in January was he informed of the termination of the lease agreement, on the pretext the charity had not paid its rent even though the rent was supposed to be paid directly by one of the donors, ProWealth. ProWealth committed itself to paying the N$1 000 donation for renting the premises, while Hertz’ donations to the charity came in the form of occasional provision of vehicles for the Centre’s use. The affair will raise the question in many people’s minds whether a mere N$1 000 month donation and the occasional loan of vehicles give donors the right to seize control of a charity. Most of the CDF funding, which amounted to roughly N$359 000 in 2005, came from overseas donors. Henriette Le Grange of Hertz is reportedly the chairperson of the new Child Development Foundation, with Pieter Lingenfelder of ProWealth the treasurer and Api De Plooy of Pionierspark NG Kerk the other director. Lingefelder yesterday confirmed the creation of the new charity, but he was not prepared to explain how the N$320 000 of the original CDF mysteriously ended up in the bank account of their new charity. He said the new charity would only be prepared to comment officially after it holds a specially scheduled board meeting. The new CDF in its November press statement indicated that it intends to proceed with the new centre on the land Hakizimana secured from the municipality, and the N$7 million donation he canvassed. Meanwhile, Hakizimana complains the new group has effectively taken all the movable property of CDF left at the Shalom Centre. This includes computers, chairs, tables, beds, and mattresses, and all the kitchen equipment including fridges and freezers. In addition, his charity left one full container of donated goods from the Netherlands and a half-full one from Australia on the premises. He alleges all the documents of the organisation, including important financial documents, are also still on the premises. What made him especially angry is the summary dismissal of his seven volunteers. “They had no right to dismiss them, because they did not employ them. They were also dismissed without any severance pay,” he bitterly complained.