Monday, 22 October 2012

AWEMA - No Taffioso deals, but some questions unanswered

Last Thursday, the Wales Audit Office published their long-awaited report into AWEMA, following the charity's liquidation. More on this at : National Left, Jac o' the North, Peter Black AM, A Change of Personnel, Inside Out, Betsan Powys and Gareth Hughes.

Firstly, we need to get the Labour issue out of the way. The report found no evidence of outright political interference, saying that although "the full basis of some of the Welsh Government's funding decisions were unclear" there was little evidence of "inappropriate ministerial involvement." (p31)

By that, they mean there were no deals in smoky rooms, or ministers going out of their way – on record - to accommodate Naz Malik. In fact, AWEMA didn't always get what they asked for.

The report highlights who was responsible for what over the period (Appendix 5). Three names feature prominently throughout - Jane Hutt, Carl Sargeant & Edwina Hart – with a few others, such as Carwyn Jones, Sue Essex, Brian Gibbons and Andrew Davies playing minor roles. Also, between 2007-2011, Ieuan Wyn Jones played a significant role as minister responsible for the European funding , but his name doesn't feature as often.

So, this was a primarily Labour-led systemic failure, but neither Plaid, nor the Lib Dems (Mike German's brief involvement circa 2000-2001 & Lib Dem AWEMA trustees), come out of this completely smelling of roses (heh).

Welsh Labour conspiracy theories are entertaining – no doubt harbouring truths - but a scandal would have to be really big and bad to make an impact. It also distracts from the key issue – poor governance. The way to dent a party's credibility, is that when they're crap at the job they're elected to do, it gets reported as widely as possible.

On that, the findings were more damning. You could sum up the rest of the report in one sentence : In handling AWEMA, the Welsh Government, parts of the European Funding Office and civil service have been vain, disorganised and shown poor leadership.

Vain - The report says that the Welsh Government's equalities unit issued advice to Jane Hutt and Rhodri Morgan that they were worried about the "impact on the Welsh Government's reputation among....minority ethnic groups, were it to cease funding AWEMA." (p40)

When the wider scandal broke in 2011, and the organisation's existence was threatened, AWEMA  did play the race card. So civil service warnings were, perhaps, vindicated. So what? Fearing the reactions to "controversial" decisions is no way to run a government or civil service. It's vanity. To quote The Thick of It from the weekend, "This is the result of a political class that's given up on morality and simply pursues popularity at all costs."

Disorganised – The report highlights major errors in grant funding, citing lack of stability in the equalities unit, and brushing aside the findings of a specially commissioned report. Edwina Hart wasn't even sent a submission about new funding arrangements, despite commissioning the review in the first place and being responsible for funding (p41).

The equalities unit "did not rigorously follow up concerns about AWEMA's governance arrangements" for a period of five years (2005-2010) and didn't take allegations, by the chair and acting chair in 2007, into consideration. The European Funding Office had no concerns about AWEMA's EU projects, but "didn't apply sufficient rigour in monitoring these projects."

Poor leaders – The Welsh Government were warned no fewer than eight times between 2000-2011 about AWEMA (Appendix 3), including former Plaid AM, Dai Lloyd and Peter Black AM (Lib Dem, South Wales West) as recently as 2010.

The Welsh Government were satisfied with many of AWEMA's projects, but too lazy in monitoring them – a recurring theme. They didn't respond to specific allegations, had poor communication between departments, failed to follow-up concerns or "get to the heart of issues" when concerns were raised. (p71-72)

The report says that "management of....funding to AWEMA by the Welsh Government....has often been poor." There's praise, however, for how the Welsh Government reacted in 2011 .Shame it couldn't have been said earlier.

It's also unclear how much this has cost. Direct payments from the Welsh Government totalled £7.15million between 2000-2011. The Welsh Government claimed a debt owed to them of around £900,000. AWEMA disputed this, and the figure was reduced to around £545,000. Naz Malik denied there were any missing funds on ITVWales' Sharp End. It's unlikely AWEMA's creditors - including the Welsh Government - will see any of that money again.

Some important questions remain partially, or wholly, unanswered. So this hasn't been flushed yet.

Bethan Jenkins pressed Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) to release documents from the equalities unit, to little avail. The change of Permanent Secretary might be a legitimate excuse for that, and might delay backbench AMs getting answers too.

We partially know why funding kept going to AWEMA – the Welsh Government/civil service didn't want to be accused of racism – but it's worth hearing the reasons from the ministers themselves. We now, also, have a good idea about who was involved. Will we get any apologies?

Other issues and questions I don't think have been satisfactorily cleared up include:
  • What were the precise failings which resulted in the answer to the (2006) written question by Dai Lloyd and Peter Black AM being "incomplete and inaccurate"?
  • Why, despite concerns raised in the 2004-05 report, was funding to AWEMA increased in subsequent years?
  • Why did the Welsh Government "fail to act" in response to the 2007 accusations from the acting chair and vice-chair of AWEMA?
  • What, precisely, did the Charities Commission do in relation to the 2007 allegations?
  • Where are the Home Office  records relating to their £346,000 grants to AWEMA?
  • What was particular about the 2011 disclosures that convinced the Welsh Government to act compared to prior warnings?
  • What actions are the Welsh Government and civil service taking to prevent this from happening again?

It's been reported that several urgent questions have been submitted for tomorrow, and today, the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee heard that the Welsh Government had "no way of highlighting that AWEMA was high risk." I think it's time ministers were upfront, or lines will never be drawn under this.


  1. A couple more questions: What was the connection between AWEMA and Naz Malik's sister's charity in London? How could AWEMA operate in Kenya and Pakistan, as it claimed on its website? Was it using EU or WG funding?

  2. the way Malik got away with a lot of this was down to 'reverse racism' - the idea that he was untouchable "'cos he was black"! Reverse racism is just a perverse form of racism! There are bad black and ethnic people as much as bad Caucasians. Time to make our government colour blind!

  3. I can understand the reasons why there's extra support for ethnic minorities in Wales, as they make up a tiny percentage of the population outside Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and that might be overwhelming. But I don't see why existing charities and groups, covering the same ground as AWEMA, can't be utilised by them though. There's a proliferation of charities and third sector bodies for the sake of it.

  4. You're gonna sleep wid da fishes.