25 April 2014

Liberia: Credibility Issues - Green Advocate's Chief Defends Records

Green Advocates Boss, Attorney Alfred Lahai Brownell, the man credited with leading Liberia's postwar activists' era, has himself come under the spotlight for breaching what is termed as 'Code of ethics and Conduct for NGOs'.

Brownell confirmed to this paper last week that his daughter, Keedor A. Brownell has been working at Green advocates for three years running. Not only is Keedor working as the strategic finance officer for her father, but another Brownell, Bahwah Brownell is also into play, and in cashing huge checks; documents in our possession have revealed.

"I don't see anything wrong with that. I don't see this as nepotism at all. My daughter has been working here for three years now ... I am sure there is nothing wrong with it," the President of the Association of Environmental Lawyers said during an interview last week.

Advocacy under fire

The latest revelation brings to question some of the advocacy that had been made by the environmental lobbyist in which he condemned the government as well as other concession companies for not upholding global business standards. Attorney Brownell is on record for openly condemning the government for not following standards, in the aftermath of the Moore Stevens report on the award of concession agreements. He is also leading a campaign against Concessionaires in Liberia, in some instances filing complaints to international bodies and governments overseas on the operations of these multinational corporations.

Peter A. Gourevitch& David Lake (2012) in their book 'The Credibility of NGOs' said NGOs and activists cannot simply rely on their perceived virtue, but should ensure that they practice what they preach or risk putting their credibility and integrity on the brink.

"The Credibility of NGOs and activists matter deeply for bringing about successful Social change under global standards. Without the backing of the law, the ethical claims of NGOs either as monitors or service providers must stand the test of public opinion if they are to change social behavior. That is, their claims must themselves be credible if others are to act upon them. Peter A. Gourevitch& David Lake - ('The Credibility of NGOs'- 2012).

Between January 7, 2013 to April 2, 2014 Brownell's two children, one of whom he has denied having cashed out more than US$9,400 in stipends alone from GA accounts.

Documents in our possession further show that on June 25, 2013 the founder of the Association of Environmental Lawyers of Liberia, Attorney Alfred also ordered five deposits, totaling over US$17,800 dollars to one St. Michael Business center, with reference numbers as follows: 006INCQ13176005, 006INCQ13176006, 006INCQ13176007, 006INCQ13176008, 006INCCQ13176009 and 006INCQ131760006 respectively. Sources with the environmental lobbyist have hinted that the account is one of the several accounts he transfers money for his personal use.

This paper has also reliably learnt that, between October 2012 and June 2013 the Green Advocates lead campaigner, has diverted money from GA accounts to his private run newspaper called the Activist. The paper, like other media institutions makes a profit. Ironically, according to our investigation and documents in our possession, Brownell has ordered the transfer and deposit of over US$8,600 to the paper under the pretext of media consultancy. For instance, on February 27, 214 Attorney Brownell ordered the Transfer of US$3,000 to the Activist account with slip number 0448145 to account # CHK2256374.

Last year, during Brownell's campaign against Buchanan Renewable Energy, he and other International partners sued the company on multipurpose charges. Addressing a news conference earlier this year, Atty. Brownell said hundreds of Liberian farmers, charcoal producers and workers filed a complaint with a U.S federal agency, demanding redress for its funding of a biomass project that caused serious human rights, labor and environmental abuses, including sexual abuse of local women by company employees.

Surrounded by a group of citizens believed to be victims of the BRE's operations, he said, the federal agency, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) approved a total of US$216.7 million for the project, operated by Buchanan Renewable, including the Liberian victims seeking redress for abuses. Attorney Brownell called on the U.S government to investigate and take responsibility for its role in the biomass project.

Brownell like BRE has received hundreds of thousands of United States dollars from donors with little or less impact on the local communities he claims to be representing, Morris Neasian, Civil Society leader in Buchanan said. Like Morris, another counterpart of GA Brownell, who prefers anonymity, said though Brownell has received huge donations from donors for projects, he has failed to produce reports.

From 2012 to 2014, Brownell has received more than US$463,000 from Western environmental lobbyists. Between 2012, to 2014 alone, GA received from the Rights and Resources, more than US$184,975 in cash donations. The Forest Peoples Programme, Global Humanitarian Funds as well as Global Humaniro have made huge donations to GA.

According to the Funds for Global Human Rights official website, www.globalhumanrights.org, Brownell received more than US$66,000 in 2013 to give technical support to a group called the Alliance for Rural Development (ARD). Sources have hinted that Brownell is the brainchild of ARD, a group he founded two years ago to get more of donor support.

Last year, ARD was the singular NGO that allegedly advised communities to stage a non-cooperative posture against Sime Darby after the company commenced clearing its old rubber in the Golodee and Malama area. According to an article published the world non-governmental website, NGOs and activists have the responsibility to be transparent, honest, accountable, and ethical, to give out accurate information, and to not manipulate situations for the personal benefits.

NGOs have a calling, according to Peter A. Gourevitch& David Lake, to go beyond the boundaries of race, ethnicity, culture and politics. They have the obligation to respect each person's fundamental human rights. NGOs are to have a system of proper governance.

The authors further said, NGOs must be careful to treat all public monies with utmost seriousness as a public trust and not to misuse public money for selfish purposes. NGOs have an obligation to not align themselves with, or stand in opposition to, any particular government for purely selfish or shortsighted means, nor to become controlled by a governmental body. In short, NGOs have the responsibility to dedicate themselves for the sake of others and do so, according to the highest code of ethical conduct.

In an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica Thursday Brownell responding, said having two members of his family working in an institution with seventeen (17) employees in lower positions does not amount to nepotism.

"I don't see how that amounts to nepotism; I have two family members, my daughter and a brother who works here. They are low staff members in the entity, we have more than 17 people working here with Green Advocate and these two people are no way involved in decision making, they are not involved in processes so I don't understand how low level staff working here will be nepotism, because they don't make decisions in the institution. They are not even members of the senior management of the institution. I don't know how people will equate that to nepotism" says Brownell.

'I cannot discriminate'

Atty. Brownell said he cannot discriminate against members of his family from working at Green Advocate.

Says Brownell "For the mere fact that I am here does not means that anybody who is related to me cannot work at Green Advocate, I cannot discriminate against those people who want to come and work here, but if those people are involved in senior management decision making like myself, it means that I can sit down with them and we can connive to want to run the institution like a family business but if they are just staff members of the institution and they do not make decision, then how is that nepotism".

On huge funding received from several donors, including Rights and Resources, environmental lawyers and others, Brownell said Green Advocates received donations from several donors.

"Well Green advocate as a non for profit organization, we write proposals, over the period since we were established, we receive funding both from Western donors and from donors from other parts of the world who fund our work, that enables us to go on the field and provide support, protection and advocacy for the rights of communities and over the years we have accounted for every single penny that was given us", said Brownell.

Audit a requirement

The Head of Green Advocate said as a matter of requirement the organization submits narrative of financial report and conducts audits of its operations with reports submitted to donors, while donors also conduct their own audits.

The head of Green Advocate disclosed "Every year it is a requirement under our grant proposal, we write a narrative and financial report to our donors and not a single partner that we work with has raised any eyebrow about our work. All the support we got over the years we do report and even audit. We do an audit and our partners are satisfied with the narrative report, with the audit report and they satisfied that the money they are giving us, we are using it to achieve the desired result, protecting human rights, the environment, the rights of communities and other activities in Liberia so if anyone having access to our financial statement and they say that people are giving us money that we are not accounting for, they need to go and ask our donors because our donors have not made such allegation. Over the years, we have had very healthy working relationship with our donors and none of them have ever questioned our work".

He said the Green Advocate has been accountable and will remain accountable, saying "We have been accountable so I am surprise for people say this because the first people that will complain will be our donors. We do regular audits here and make sure our accounting policies are in line with international best practice, so in our audits it is shown that those funding we receive are fully accounted for, donors require audits and sometimes they themselves will send people to do their audit. That has happened and they do not raise eyebrows, so I clearly see that somebody may in an unorthodox way have access to financial statement, they see financial statements, they see bank reconciliation and they decide to give their own interpretations".

Receive many accolades

According to Brownell, donors and Liberians are satisfied with the work of the organization and have bestowed honor on the Green Advocate. "Those saying these things need to show the hard facts that we are misusing funds from donors, but I think people in Liberia are themselves evidence of our work, because all over Liberia in rural communities and in Montserrado, people are aware of our work and we get nothing but commendation. Just this year we received the best advocacy award, a year before we received the Man of the year award. People are giving us accolade for the work we are doing in Liberia, if we are not successful in such work, I don't think people would be commending us" said Brownell.

Brownell said the work of Green Advocate has pointed out to decision makers that something is wrong and requires attention. "We have been going all around the country to look and see and document violations and abuses and catalogued those violations and abuses so that decision makers can know that there is a problem and we try to fix it".

Work angers people

Brownell said he thinks people are angry with the level of work being done by Green Advocate and as such are targeting him and the institution. "We believe there is much bigger than this, people are angry because of our work due to their interest who are after us, who want to destroy us, want to destroy our reputation. For malicious reason somebody had access to our financial statement they are not an accountant and they want to give it interpretations" he stated.

The Environmental advocate said contrary to report that he has two of his children who were aides and paid stipends, he has only one daughter who was not paid stipends.

"See for example, see they are saying that my two children work here and they encash checks, I do not have two children here. I have a daughter who works here and an extended brother who works here. If you are going out of Monrovia for a workshop and you issued a check in Bahwah name and he goes and encashes the check to take the money out for the workshop or to buy materials for the workshop, or to pay for food or accommodation how does that amount to paying stipend to him?" Brownell questioned.

The St. Michael Business center, he said, is a legitimate business center located around Bong Mines Bridge and is a vendor to the Green Advocate.

"St. Michael Business center is a legitimate business, we do legitimate business with, they provide services for us, vehicle rental, sometimes we buy used vehicles from them. They have been a vendor to Green Advocate, so we only carry out legitimate business with them and you can go and verify. This is an attempt to try to scandalize our name; this person is on a fishing expedition to assassinate our character and that of our institution. They vex that our campaign is succeeding, they vex that the people of Liberia are of their rights and are demanding those rights. People all this country now are asking concessionaires, how you get here, that are our benefits, the land is for us".

Brownell said he has been in advocacy for ten years and has even resisted job offers from government and other sources because he believes in advocacy.

"We have been in this struggle for over 10 years, we have resisted jobs from Government and others because we believe in this cause, we firmly believe in our principles, we remain uncompromising, unwavering so they coming after us, so they paid a yellow belly journalists, they paid him some money to just come and look at our financial statement and make their interpretations".

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