14 January 2013

Tanzania: Church Under Fire Over School Ownership

Arusha — PEACE House Africa (PHA), a US-based charitable organization, has claimed that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) has robbed them a school they built in Arusha.

Mr Scott Augustine, Founder and Chairperson of PHA, said in a statement that his organization was currently mobilizing resources, people and support groups to reclaim the property.

PHA's statement, attached with a film documentary and distributed world-wide, accuses the top leadership of the ELCT Northern and Central Diocese (NCD) and vows to ensure that they convince donor communities to freeze monetary assistance to the church in Tanzania.

The Peace House (Secondary) School, meant to serve orphans and children living in difficult conditions, was built in 2006 and started operations in January 2007 with maiden 120 students. Currently, it has over 350 students, mostly vulnerable children and those orphaned by HIV/Aids.

The government donated 100 acres of land for the school's construction while PHA channelled in funds through ELCT-NCD. Later, PHA claimed that much of the money, as well as materials meant for the school's construction were diverted by the church elders to build a massive Corridor Springs Hotel owned by ELCT in Arusha.

Mr Augustine added that PHA was told by Bishop Thomas Laizer to include tax payment of 450,000 US dollars for the project, despite the fact that churches in Tanzania are exempted from taxes and that even the school was a charitable institution for orphans.

And in 2011 the ELCT's NCD Secretary General, Mr Israel Ole Karyongi, allegedly used security organs, notably police and immigration officers, to kick out PHA officials from Arusha and claim total control of the school. When contacted for comment, church elders could not be reached but one official refuted the allegations against the church.

"What I can say is that those foreign donors simply gave up the running of the school after the going got tough," said an official at the ELCT headquarters here who preferred anonymity as he was not the church's spokesperson.

"Bishop Thomas Laizer is currently ill, otherwise he would have explained the whole issue, but PHA simply decided to ditch the school for their own reasons and in fact their sudden departure caused the students to suffer for a while, but at the moment everything is under control," he stated.

Mr Elias Kisanga, a parent, said they were informed that donors who built the school were planning to close it down in their quest to leave the country: "As a parent I have to sincerely thank PHS and the church for ensuring that the institution continues to run strongly and effectively despite the recent exodus of former supporters who also wanted to close it," he stated, adding that since it supports orphaned children, closing it would have negative effects to the needy.

The ELCT Secretary General, Mr Karyongi, could not be available for comment on the issue as he was out of town. But PHA Board Member, Ms Sue Augustine stated that they made a mistake by not transferring the title deed of the 100 acre farm which the government issued to PHA for the secondary school project, to Peace House Africa and as a result the church registered it in the name of the diocese and this is where the trouble started.

"We remain committed to the continued education of our students. PHA is proud that our school ranked 7th out of 320 secondary schools in the northern zone. "As we work to reclaim the school, we will continue to help vulnerable Tanzanian children to receive a quality education and will stand up for what's right," stated Ms Augustine.

The alleged seizure of PHS has on the other hand attracted the attention of anti-corruption activists. A member of one group, Enough of Corruption in Africa, has created a blog advocating a boycott of the Lutheran owned Corridor Springs Hotel.

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