Saturday, 16 August 2008

Fauna and Flora International (FFI)

On a visit to the deep south-west of Borneo in June, quite by chance,
I met with the Head Guard of the famous Gunung Palung National Park - it's mountainous but in the lower reaches some 2000 orangutans live. So, it is a very, very important park.

(That's me to the far right of the photo, and to my right is the Forest Guard)

I got to chat with the guard and we were quickly joined by a group of about 10 people, one of whom spoke particularly good English which helped whenever the guard and I were unable to understand one another!

A quick reminder - this was the most senior park guard - against illegal loggers and people trying to capture baby orangutans - after killing their mothers. In trying to learn about his work I discovered to my astonishment that he and his team of seven guards went on patrol into the forest for 20 days a month with no hammocks to sleep in - so they had to sleep on the forest floor, no rainwear to protect them from the regular and very heavy storms and no mosquito nets.

Scarcely believing what I was hearing I wrote it all down and asked the guard if he would mind me taking up these serious shortfalls in basic equipment with the Fauna and Flora International (FFI) group whose responsibility it was/is to equip them - I knew they themselves had money given to them for this specific purpose. He agreed in front of some 10 witnesses, I could do so. One other point; the guard said they were one team of eight guards, when to do the job properly it needs three teams of eight.

When I was in the same location back in February, people had reported to me that they had not seen or heard from the local FFI representatives for about for six months.

FFI has an annual income of about £9 million. It's Patron is HM Queen Elizabeth II and its Vice-President is Sir David Attenborough.

Back in the UK I wrote to Mark Rose, FFI's Executive Director, asking if he could look into the situation I had reported. After exchanging several emails he has assured me the guards have all the equipment they want and that I must have misunderstood what the guard had told me. Basically, FFI dismissed every single thing I had reported to them in good faith as a 'misunderstanding' - on my part; he was happy with the report his own people in Western Borneo had filed with him - the same people who would be responsible for providing equipment for the guards. i.e. they were reporting on themselves.

So, Mr Rose wants me to believe that a guard I met entirely by chance, told me a pack of lies, which I then wrote down.....I have my notes in front of me now as I write this today. This same guard was completely aware of my intention to report the matter in the hope of getting him and his team the missing equipment. Everything was said in front of witnesses and the guard was happy for me to report what he said. Presumably he hoped it would help produce their missing equipment.

According then to Mr Rose, this guard would have risked his job and reputation in telling me lies. Why? The guard would have had nothing to gain by lying, and everything to loose. This raised my suspicions about FFI's handling of donors money....until then I had no reason to, but Mr Rose's replies just made no rational sense. Rightly or wrongly, I was suspicious of what FFI was telling me.

Worried as I was about FFI and money, I went to the UK Charity Commission web site to look at FFI's last reported financial accounts.

In amongst all the accountants copy I came across these paragraphs -
I'm copying them exactly as reported by FFI's accountants. I am unable to find these same words in the accounts FFI has published on its web site;
not sure why they would be excluded as you would think the donors have a right to see these comments and an apology would not have been out of place given the scale of losses.

For the year ended 31 December 2006

FFI receives a significant proportion of its income in US dollars. Wherever possible this is matched to dollar expenditure, minimising exposure to actual foreign exchange gains and losses The effects of the accounting
translation of foreign currency transactions and balances, however, can be significant and the sterling's strength against the US dollar in particular in 2006 has had a very detrimental affect on our accounting result, leading to a loss on foreign exchange of £268k. This has obviously had a serious impact on our overall result for the year and has severely constrained our ability to reduce our unrestricted deficit.

We did achieve an unrealised gain on our investment portfolio of £65k, contributing £41 k to unrestricted funds and £24k to the endowment, but also incurred an exceptional expense of £72k relating to some investigation work that was undertaken by KPMG following allegations made regarding financial malpractice in part of our operations.

Following this report and reports received from the management of the organisation, the trustees are satisfied that there has been no fraud, false accounting or management malfeasance either in FFI or in our partner organisation.

After a detailed review of projects in 2005, resulting in the write off of some £235k of bad debt and irrecoverable expenditure, a review of project balances this year has led to a small element (<£5k) of write down for project expenses that are deemed to be irrecoverable, and the maintenance of the provision of £80k against the projects in Belize that was created last year. The Trustees are confident that there are no other projects at present where there is a potential exposure to bad debt or under recovery of cost.

Essentially, this means in the year ending December 2006 FFI lost about £267,000 (about US$525,000) of donors money, including an external accountants fee for looking into someones (not me) claim that FFI had some financial irregularity, which the accountants found to be unfounded.

Now, this is the very same organisation who insists they are not providing vital equipment to these guards because - they don't want it, even though the Head Guard says they do.

I will leave you to judge all this for yourself. But if you feel as strongly as I still do, here is the email address for Mr Rose:

Questions like,

Why would the guard lie? There has been no misunderstanding.

Why take the word only of his local people, with a vested interest, rather than someone whose only concern is enabling the guards to do their job properly?

Was it not a bit careless to loose £267,000 (recorded in FFI accounts) of donors money, and does Sir David Attenborough know about this?

With their £9 million income, why can't they find enough money to provide more guards for this vitally important National Park?
(I doubt it would cost more than £20,000 a year in total....a small percentage of FFI's £9,000,000 income)

In this same region, rainforests and all that live in them are being decimated. So why won't FFI devote more of its financial fortune to saving even this National Park and some 2000 orangutans?