E. Africa Conference official responds to audits

United Methodist News Service…

KAMPALA, Uganda—The East Africa Conference treasurer has issued a response to the suspension of church funds to the conference after unfavorable audits.

His response came more than a week after the United Methodist Church’s finance agency took the unprecedented step of setting a lower salary for the conference’s bishop until satisfactory accounting is provided.

Charles Bamutya, the treasurer, responded to audits by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries by saying, “I wonder where they are getting such information when they have not even revisited the audit.”

Students study their English lesson at Humble United Methodist School in Mukono, Uganda. The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries has put funds to the school on hold after audits raised questions about the East Africa Conference’s accounting practices. UMNS FILE PHOTO BY MIKE DUBOSE

Mr. Bamutya called the specifics “blanket statements” and said it was not fair for the auditors to rule on the financial procedures of the East Africa Conference.

“There is nothing lacking because we have always provided receipts and all necessary documents for the last three audits in question,” he said.

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, requires conferences “to cooperate with the General Council on Finance and Administration . . . in promoting and standardizing the financial recording and reporting systems in the local churches of the conference.” The church law book also authorizes a certified public accountant to audit the accounts of a conference treasurer for the preceding fiscal year and to receive, review and report such audit to the annual conference.

The last of three audits by the Board of Global Ministries, conducted June 18 to June 30, 2012, stated, “The financial procedures, record keeping, and internal controls as practiced by the East Africa Annual Conference Office were found to be lacking in virtually every area.”

Mr. Bamutya disputes each of the audit findings reported in a recent United Methodist News Service article.

Bishop Peter Weaver, chair of the Board of Global Ministries independent audit committee, said his committee is “working directly with the East Africa Annual Conference to reconcile the audit and work through the audit recommendations.”

Bishop Weaver said the committee was “surprised” that the responses from Mr. Bamutya that were posted on the East Africa Conference website were “different than what has been received by the audit committee.”

Bishop Weaver

He added, “We hope that this will lead to receiving a comprehensive response within the audit process. To keep with the integrity of the audit process in these complex matters, the Global Ministries audit committee will continue to seek resolution directly with the East Africa Annual Conference on the outstanding issues. If and when resolution is achieved, as we all pray it will be, the church and press will be informed.”

Suspension of funds

In August, the mission agency suspended funding through the Advance, the denomination’s designated-giving program, to the East Africa Conference. The move followed the recommendation of the agency’s independent audit committee. The audits began in April 2011.

Bishop Daniel Wandabula, who leads the East Africa Conference, subsequently was re-elected for life on Aug. 17 when the Africa Central Conference met in Nairobi, Kenya. Unlike in the United States, the Africa Central Conference bishops are not elected for life at their first election.

On Sept. 27, the board of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination’s finance agency, advised all United Methodist bodies to withhold funds from the East Africa Conference office until the resolution of the auditing issues and said it was filing a formal complaint against Bishop Wandabula. On Dec. 1, the finance agency announced it would set Bishop Wandabula’s salary at $1,000 a month in 2013 until the conference provides a satisfactory accounting of how its money is spent.

Bishop Wandabula in an October email blamed the actions of the denomination’s mission and finance agencies on a campaign “of malice, mudslinging, character lynching and insurrection.” He contended the agencies were siding with a blackmail attempt by an anonymous emailer who used the name “Journey Jonah.”

Indiana Area Bishop Michael J. Coyner, president of the finance agency’s board, disputed Bishop Wandabula’s assertion. He told United Methodist News Service that the finance agency’s Audit and Review Committee “studied the situation very thoroughly and made their recommendations on the basis of finances not on the basis of any internal politics of the [East Africa Conference].”

Since October, Bishop Wandabula has requested United Methodist News Service to email him questions, but he has not responded to emailed requests for comment on his office’s response to the audits.

In a separate situation, the Western Pennsylvania Conference earlier had asked the United Methodist Judicial Council—the denomination’s top court—to review whether funds given to the East Africa Conference were used in accordance with the intent of the donors as required by the 2008 Book of Discipline (Paragraph 258.4). The Western Pennsylvania Conference also asked the council to review the manner in which the Africa Central Conference College of Bishops handled complaints against the bishop.

During a Judicial Council hearing in October, Bishop Wandabula defended his actions and provided Judicial Council members with documents related to a church-building project that involved the Pittsburgh East District in Western Pennsylvania.

The Judicial Council deferred a decision on the Western Pennsylvania request until its spring session in April.

After the hearing, Bishop Wandabula declined to answer questions from the United Methodist News Service. “As for the questions, let us give the Judicial Council time to follow up with their work,” he said.

Mr. Bamutya’s comments are the first responses from the East Africa Conference that the news service has received since the finance agency announced it was lowering the bishop’s salary.

He refuted each of the findings reported.

Regarding Humble School, for example, Mr. Bamutya referred to the items listed in the recent news service article as being inconsistent. For example, he said, the figure of $699,409 for Humble School does not match his records. He added that it was a mistake that Board of Global Ministries auditors have continued to make whenever they publish their reports.

In his response to the June 2012 audit, Mr. Bamutya stated that during the period under review, Humble School received $697,421.47 from Global Ministries through the school and conference accounts, which is contrary to the Aug. 4, 2011, and June 30, 2012, audit reports by Global Ministries, which reflects $842,000 and $699,409 respectively.

On the salaries of the teachers, he said that the delay of salary payment was a result of Global Ministries’ decision to put funds on hold. It is now more than one year since the Board of Global Ministries put the donations to Humble School on hold in October 2011.

The mission agency’s June 2012 audit reported that teachers had told auditors that delays in payments had “been the norm as far back as 2009.”

The audit also said Humble School secondary’s ledger shows $84,464 was sent to the secondary schools, but there were no receipts for these payments.

However, Mr. Bamutya said a detailed file with bank slips was given to the auditors. He said he wondered why the auditors came up with such a conclusion. He noted, “Perhaps they got confused with the education system of Uganda,” where bank slips are used—not receipts as the auditors stated.

Providing information for this article were Grace Nakajje, a United Methodist communicator with the East Africa Conference, and Heather Hahn, a United Methodist News Service reporter.

 

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