25 September 2008

Who's Most "Accountable" Now?

A report from Halifax has struck me like a blow and resurfaced the hurt I experienced a few years ago. It's the report of Rosamond Luke, former Tory candidate and Harpercon favourite, who as Executive Director of a group whose mandate was to help low-income immigrant women, unaccountably (and allegedly - nothing has been proven in court) helped herself to federal funds instead.

You see, a similar thing happened to WISE, the group which I founded and whose membership was women in poverty like myself. In the four short years of its existence, WISE grew into a national movement. We worked to help each other and our families and to lead change in our communities.

Unlike the group from Halifax, WISE didn't shut its doors - then, when our own version of Rosamond Luke did her thing - and our project went on. But more than that differentiates what happened to us and our project, and the painful events likely still being endured by the Halifax group. According to reports,
Ms. Luke was the executive director of an organization called All Women's Empowerment and Development Association, which received a $142,700 federal grant in March. The grant says the money was meant to fund a 12-month pilot project to integrate low-income immigrant women into Nova Scotia's small business community.

But just six months into the contract, the agency announced Wednesday it has nearly run out of money and is now closed.

So let me get this straight.

  • $142,700 over 12 months - 60% unaccountably and allegedly taken by Rosamond Luke, former Tory candidate - project closes after six months.
  • $15,000 over 12 months - 60% unaccountably taken by Project Coordinator - project goes on.

Guess whose project was the second one?

Now let's examine the Harper Conservative logic.
  1. Both grants were from Status of Women Canada.
  2. The first grant was awarded in 2008 to an incorporated nonprofit, the second in 2003 to an unincorporated nonprofit - a group of women in poverty.
  3. Due to changes made by the Harper government in October 2006, only incorporated groups, including for-profits, would be eligible for SWC grants. The reason? Accountability.
  4. In both cases, 60% of grant funds were unaccountably taken (allegedly, in the one case, indisputably in the other) by the person in charge of the project.
  5. The incorporated, purportedly accountable group, closed its doors after six months and left its project unfinished. With $59,000 left.
  6. The unincorporated group, whose accountability the Harper government questioned due to the group's informal status, did not close its doors. The project was completed. With only $6,000 left.

Which group would you say was the most accountable?

How did WISE do it?

Our scam artist - let's call her 'B' -, having done about one months' work over an eight month period, subsequently "resigned."

The only reason B had been hired in the first place was because I'd fallen seriously ill just as the first grant cheque came in. To save the project, it was arranged that it go under the supervision of a local incorporated umbrella group. The Executive Director of the umbrella organization hired this scam artist to be the Project Coordinator.

I was still the Coordinator of WISE, had written the original proposal, and therefore knew the project's design better than anyone and knew its budget inside out, backwards and upside down.

I became suspicious early on and as my health began to recover worked to bring the problems to light. Unfortunately, the umbrella group wasn't checking the invoices against the project budget or, failing that, passing B's invoices through me.

There was resistance. The umbrella group had worked with B before and couldn't imagine her scamming WISE's project. In the end, however, they couldn't deny the proof and I completely took over the position of Project Coordinator. That meant working to undo the damage which B had done and redoing most of her work.

So how did we save the project and ultimately, WISE, from the impending disaster?

We made up the financial loss by taking it out of the Project Coordinator's salary. Which means I did eleven months' work for $3,000.

Who would YOU say was the most accountable?

  • Two groups, both of which had the legal status of being incorporated - i.e., the corporate equivalent of personhood?
  • Or the unincorporated group of low income women - who are persons, hence legal entities, in their own right?

By the way, that first project of WISE? Our very first?

It was Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the front, the project which unexpectedly resulted in a book of the same name. Which we did entirely ourselves, because no publisher would look at it.

The point of this tale is that bad stuff happens. But if you're truly accountable, you keep your commitments to others despite any personal cost.

NB: WISE folded December 15, 2007 after completing its second project, The Scarlet Letter Campaign. As an unincorporated group, and therefore assumed to be unaccountable, we were no longer eligible to receive SWC grants.

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