February 28, 2012

Corruption allegations hit WWF programmes

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Tanzania is embroiled in a corruption scandal over the alleged misappropriation of Norwegian aid aimed at helping civil society organisations build capacity, Norwegian and WWF officials said. When Norway's government learned of the irregularities it immediately suspended its funding to that project and to another $2.5-million REDD+ readiness project aimed at enhancing Tanzania's capacity to deliver data on forest carbon stocks, said Naess Inger, the Norwegian embassy counselor on environmental issues. The Tanzania country director of the well-known conservation group has since resigned. He blamed WWF-Norway for what he termed "blowing the issue out of proportion" while defending his record on fighting corruption as being in line with organisation policy.

An external auditing firm, Ernest & Young, has been brought in to carry out an investigation into the problems, WWF officials also stressed. The auditing firm's initial report suggests that a share of NOK25million (approximately $1.3 million) injected by Norway into a project called 'Strengthening Capacity of Environmental Civil Society Organizations' has disappeared. REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation - is a U.N.-backed effort to protect tropical forests by having developed countries pay poorer countries to protect forest, in exchange for the richer countries receiving carbon emission reduction credits. REDD+ is a version of the effort that focuses on ensuring forest communities gain from such payments. "We have suspended all further disbursements to the two projects while awaiting receipt of the probe report by Ernst& Young ... further decisions in line with our policy of zero tolerance of corruption will follow later," Inger said. According to Inger, the four-year capacity building programme, which started in 2008, was aimed at empowering civil society organisations to help improve the contribution of fisheries, forestry and wildlife to national economic growth, poverty reduction and people's livelihoods. She said investigations are ongoing to determine how a large sum of money disappeared and to assess whether internal controls in the WWF system should be improved. A final report from the auditor is expected to be completed soon, she said. (Tanzania News)

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