Development Aid from People to People (Dapp) Malawi has been named by a US donor advisory organisation as “part of a nefarious conspiracy” of organisations intent on amassing wealth for themselves and their leaders.
It has also been implicated in a misappropriation of a large portion of US$100 million which was sourced from the United States government.
These details are contained in a protest letter which Planet Aid, apparently a parent organisation to Dapp around the world, has written to Charity Navigator Donor Advisory Issuance Committee which has put it on a watch list.
The putting of Planet Aid on surveillance is in connection with suspected fraudulent financial conduct by the organisation.
Charity Navigator describes itself as “America’s leading independent charity evaluator, [which] works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the Financial Health, Accountability and Transparency of 8,000 of America’s largest charities.”
The close watch of Planet Aid by Charity Navigator follows revelations in US-based Reveal News of the Centre for Investigative Reporting (CIR) which investigated operations of Planet Aid through Dapp operations in some parts of the world including in Mozambique and Malawi.
Reveal News reported that up to 70 percent of the US$100 million which the US government granted to Planet Aid had been misappropriated by programme subcontractor, Dapp Malawi.
It also said the two organisations are “part of a nefarious conspiracy to enrich themselves and their leaders”.
But in its April 5 2016 protest letter which we have seen, Planet Aid dismisses the investigation, expressing concern over what it suggests is its unfairness in the handling of the story and lack of truthfulness in its findings.
Among what it sees as failures of the story, Planet Aid says the investigation opted not to publish or put in prominent position some of the comments which Planet Aid gave in response to questions by the investigation team for it to explain its position on the said findings.
It also accuses Reveal News for ignoring third-party evaluations of its programme in Malawi which found that the programme had achieved substantial progress towards its objectives.
“The credibility of the story is also undermined by the location and project chosen. When the reporters reached out to Planet Aid in mid-2015 they said they wanted to visit Farmers’ Clubs in Malawi to ‘see the good work Planet Aid is doing.’ Planet Aid thought that seemed strange since it is a matter of public record that the Farmers’ Club projects had ceased operation several years earlier. There were no ongoing USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] supported Farmers’ Club projects for them to see in Malawi,” reads the letter.
Planet Aid also faults the reporters of repeatedly showing up at Farmers’ Clubs they knew were no longer running “and disingenuously act surprised that there’s no active development work being done there.”
“Why would they overlook active, ongoing, internationally recognised and award-winning projects and instead investigate a project that had been completed and closed?” it wonders.
Dapp Malawi was in March this year awarded a Unesco prize its in-service teacher training programme which it launched in 2012.
Planet Aid argues further that the story relies on one source—a former controller who had come on board at the very end of the project—for its central claim that 70 percent of more than $100 million in US grants was misused or stolen by Dapp Malawi.
The organisation therefore urges Charity Navigator to remove it from its watch list. It argues that Reveal News’ report does not meet the basic standards of serious journalism.
“The reporters ignored facts that didn’t suit their agenda. They refused to visit programs right under their noses that are highly acclaimed and, instead, used a completed project as their example. They exaggerated the figures they cited and utilised as reporting sources people who claimed to have knowledge they simply did not have. The story is rife with falsehoods and inaccuracies,” reads the letter signed Ester Neltrup, President of Planet Aid.
When contacted for comment, Country Director for Dapp Malawi, Lisbeth Thomsen, said they cannot respond on behalf of Planet Aid or speak on any exchange Planet Aid may have had with Charity Navigator.
“I only represent Dapp Malawi,” said Thomsen.
But when pressed that Dapp Malawi was specifically mentioned in the allegations and therefore needed to explain its position, Thomsen did not get back to us with a response.
Planet Aid says its mission is to inform, mobilise and inspire individuals and communities to work together to bring about worldwide environmental and social progress.
“We collect and recycle textiles to protect the environment, reduce waste, and increase the efficient use of vital resources. The proceeds from our clothes collection go toward funding sustainable development projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” it says on its website.
According to Reveal, Planet Aid gets those clothes as donations made through collection boxes located on the sides of the roads in the US.
It says the clothes and over $130 million in US grant money which Planet Aid got are supposed to help people in southern Africa.
“But when Reveal went to Malawi to find out what actually happened, people told us that some of the projects didn’t pan out.
“Our investigation finds that the US government knew an international fugitive was linked to the projects, but kept the money flowing,” it says.
Planet Aid works with Dapp Malawi in projects such as Teacher Training Colleges, Frontline Institute, Total Control of the Epidemic (TCE) and Child Aid.
Dapp started operating in Malawi in 1995 and it is largely known for its secondhand clothes sales shops and teacher training colleges.