By Rich Peck, United Methodist News Service…
The UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration, meeting Nov. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla., set the salary of East Africa Bishop Daniel Wandabula at $1,000 per month. Other bishops outside the United States will receive about $5,500 per month for 2013. The unprecedented action follows three audits conducted by the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries.
John Goolsbey, deputy general secretary for the finance agency, told United Methodist News Service he believes this is the first time in the nearly 45-year history of the United Methodist Church that a bishop’s salary has been set at a lower rate. Mr. Goolsbey said Bishop Wandabula’s salary will be reset when he and the East Africa Annual Conference are in full compliance with issues raised by the audits.
The finance agency has broad fiduciary powers to ensure all funds are handled appropriately, and it has the power to modify amounts within the Episcopal Fund, which provides financial support for bishops within and beyond the United States.
The final audit by the mission agency, conducted June 18-30, 2012, stated, “The financial procedures, record keeping, and internal controls as practiced by the East Africa Conference office were found to be lacking in virtually every area.”
Bishop Wandabula, in the United States in late November for a meeting of the United Methodist General Commission on Religion and Race, has not responded to requests for comment on the finance agency’s actions.
Suspension of funds
After that audit, the Board of Global Ministries said it was suspending all funds for the conference until the conference “is prepared to accept responsibility to be accountable and all internal controls have been put in place.” The General Council on Finance and Administration followed with a request that all conferences and local churches suspend funding of any projects through the East Africa Conference.
In a separate situation, the Western Pennsylvania Conference earlier had asked the United Methodist Judicial Council 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 complaints against the bishop had been handled by the Africa Central Conference College of Bishops. During a Judicial Council hearing in October, Bishop Wandabula defended his actions and provided Judicial Council members with a thick binder of documents related to a church-building project that involved the Pittsburgh East District in Western Pennsylvania.
The use of $110,736 is in dispute. “These [accusations] paint me in an extremely negative light,” Bishop Wandabula told Judicial Council members during the hearing. “There is no evidence that funds were misused. The fact of the matter is that the church was constructed, although it is not completed. . . . Whatever was done to build the church was done in good faith.”
The Judicial Council deferred a decision on the Western Pennsylvania request until its spring session in April.
Among the irregularities and insufficient documentation reported in several accounts in the mission agency audit were these items:
• The mission board released $699,409 in Advance funds for the Humble School, but there were no corresponding bank entries at the school, and teachers said they had not been paid in the four months prior to the June audit. Auditors also said that minutes from the school management board make it appear that the bishop made most of the decisions about running the school.
• Humble School secondary students are sent to a senior secondary school. The ledger shows $84,464 was sent to the secondary schools, but there were no receipts for these payments.
• A total of $253,665 was sent for the Hope for Africa Children’s Choir in Uganda, but a majority of expenses could not be verified.
• A total of $24,796 was given for an HIV/AIDs awareness program, but “there were no details of workshops held, attendance, or what expenses were incurred.”
• About $94,000 was donated for the construction of Trinity United Methodist Church in Wanyange, Uganda, but no title deed is available, and there is no accounting for $73,214 of that total.
• The United Methodist Women Center in Jinja, Uganda, received $6,000. There was documentation for payment of stipends to teachers, but no financial record was found on-site.
• A total of $13,165 was given to a center to provide vocational training and spiritual formation for rural famers, but there was no financial record.
• A grant of $9,100 was given to provide training in accounting for the conference treasurer, but there was no evidence of any training experience.
• A total of $15,312 was given for livestock at a farm, but the farm contained no livestock.
• A grant of $6,200 was provided to buy motorcycles for 40 district superintendents, but only $200 could be documented.
• A total of $5,309 was released to Bishop Wandabula for the Rwanda Advance, although the voucher says the money was paid to Joe Muhakarize.
Much of the money given to the East Africa Conference came through the Advance, a fund for voluntary giving in which annual conferences, districts, local churches, and individuals and families may select a particular project. Each project has been vetted by the mission agency and the Advance committee and is audited at least annually.
“There have been occasions when audits raised some questions, but these questions are usually resolved,” said Bishop Peter Weaver, chair of the Board of Global Ministries Independent Audit Committee. “In this case, the mission and finance agencies of the denomination have found across-the-board inadequate accounting procedures. These actions to suspend funds and lower the rate of a bishop’s salary are a last resort to ensure that funds are delivered in accordance with the donor’s wishes. We are continuing to work with Bishop Wandabula in the hope that these matters may be resolved and the mission of Christ can be fruitful in the East Africa Annual Conference.”
When asked to comment on the action, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council of Bishops, said: “GCFA has the task to set standards and supervise audits so that United Methodists continue to trust that money which they donate for the mission work is spent appropriately. I appreciate the efforts of GCFA and GBGM [Board of Global Ministries] to do an appropriate audit in East Africa and in all parts of the church.”
“The leadership of the COB encourages Bishop Wandabula to fulfill the requirements of the auditors,” Bishop Wenner said, “so that the conferences, agencies and individuals in our connection will continue to partner with the East Africa Annual Conference for the sake of those children and adults in the area who need support to receive education, health care and spiritual and physical nourishment.”
The Rev. Peck is a retired clergy member of the New York Conference. He now edits UM Men Magazine.