Subject: Timor Aid responds to charges

below: original article

Juan Federer and Timor Aid Respond

Timor Aid rejects the contents of the article - (August 20-26 edition the Dili-based Talitakum Magazine) - as inaccurate, biased, slanderous and xenophobic.

Timor Aid has published an English language translation of the same on its own website to give an example of this malicious type of journalism which should be discouraged.

A meeting was held with senior Talitakum staff on 31 August to express our rejection of the article's contents, followed by a letter (in Bahasa Indonesia) detailing some of the misrepresentations of the article.

A summary of the contents of that letter is provided here, for dissemination through Timor Aid's website, and all other media that have published the English summary of the article in question.

1) Attempt to create an impression that the CEO of Timor Aid tried to avoid meeting the Talitakum journalists.

a) They mention having come to my house on Sunday 12 August to meet me. What they do not say is that it was at night time, when I was already in bed, and that it was not made clear to me who they were. I asked the person who received them to ask them to go to my office which is nearby, the next day during normal working hours and ask for an appointment.

b) They did come on Monday the 13th, as I was leaving for a meeting outside, and were immediately given an appointment for the 15th at 10:00, since on the 14th I already was fully booked. They accepted it.

c) The 15th turned out to be a public holiday. Nonetheless I was in my office from early morning to afternoon, as were some other staff members. I was surprised that the Talitakum journalists did not keep the appointment, and assumed it was because it was a holiday. However, as they mention in the article, they did ask security staff whether I was in, and were told that I was not. It was unfortunate that they relied on the uniformed opinion of a security person, since his duties do not comprise keeping informed of my movements. No attempt was made by the journalists to further clarify the matter of where I was, on the basis of having an appointment with me.

The unfair conclusion they draw from the above stated in the article is that I was fleeing from them.

2) Biased "investigative journalism"

a) The article in full contains many negative statements about Timor Aid and its founders and members. These are based on "information" attributed to former staff, who are not identified. The strongest theme throughout it is xenophobia: the motive attributed to expatriates at Timor Aid is that they are here to seek profit and exploit and rob East Timor and its people.

For people who have given much at great personal sacrifice to the cause of liberation and development of East Timor, such as myself or most of our paid and volunteer expatriate staff, this is very discouraging. I furthermore added that, not only is my annual salary USD 18,000 , that is about one fifth of what someone with my qualifications would get elsewhere, but that also Timor Aid uses my valuable property rent-free for its offices, and has received about USD 50,000 from me personally in funding support.

b) Very important also is the fact that the "investigation" proceeded very one-sidedly. Only people with grievances against Timor Aid were interviewed- former employees, who did not give their identity. Why didn't they, if they were so sure of the validity of their accusations? Why are they no longer employed by Timor Aid? Among those employed, whose alleged complains were cited, are some unnamed security guards. The main informant, Pedro Rodrigues, is someone who has already reprimanded for several reasons, as will be explained in the next point. No mention is made of that, however.

Mr Rodrigues was interviewed by Talitakum journalists at Timor Aid during office hours on 7th August. Why could appointments not also be sought then with other relevant local as well expatriate Timor Aid staff ? Why was no one at higher level at Timor Aid contacted, with the exception of the attempts to get me out of bed on a Sunday night, as though I was a delinquent?

3) The core of the article: "proof of manipulation of reports to donors"

a) Talitakum's source of information is the manager of Timor Aid's boat building project which falls under its fisheries activities, Mr Pedro Rodrigues. Timor Aid is implementing this project under contract from the East Timor Transitional Administration's Fisheries Department. The Fisheries Department has received a USD 100,000 grant from Iceland for this purpose, of which USD 50,000 has been received by Timor Aid so far. Mr Rodrigues has proven to be a particularly difficult employee. He has been served a letter of reprimand and also admonished for refusing to comply with administrative procedures. He has been misusing project resources for personal for-profit activities, against the express warning of Timor Aid. He has exhibited very unruly and violent behaviour towards other staff. Mr Rodrigues has not had to prepare or sign any Timor Aid reports for the Icelandic donor, as he claims, nor is his name mentioned in any reports. Timor Aid management reports to the Fisheries Department, which in turn has the reporting responsibility to the donor,.

b) The alleged manipulated financial report: this was a printout by the accounting department of their records for the whole expenses in fisheries- related projects of Timor Aid. It was an internal working document given to the new Program Coordinator, to seek clarification of what expenses belonged to the various fisheries activities. It was never an official Timor Aid report, issued under the signature of any officer in charge.

This printout was also discussed with the Fisheries Department, who mistakenly used it in their report to Iceland. As soon as we learned about it, we informed the Department in writing that this was a mistake. They informed Iceland, and reported to us that the matter was cleared.

c) Mr Rodrigues was not satisfied and insisted there had been a manipulation that affected his good name, so he needed compensation. We refused that he was entitled to any payment. He insisted, and refused to accept the repeated explanations that he was given about what had happened. At this stage I returned to Dili from an absence of several weeks abroad. Mr Rodrigues approached me , asking that we "settle this problem in a family way" in private. I saw no reason to deal secretively, or to pay compensation, and called a meeting with all involved, including personnel from the Fisheries Department, so they could witness the situation. Several meetings followed that did not produce any progress.

d) Getting nowhere to make Mr Rodrigues realise that there was no fraud, that the outside parties were satisfied with the explanations given, and with him insisting on accusing us of manipulations and offering to "solve the problem in private in a family way", and also having to cope with his increasingly unruly behaviour, we ceased discussions on the matter. We told him in the presence of the Head of Fisheries that if he thought he had a problem, he should lodge an accusation in order to have the matter dealt with by a court of justice, which would investigate the matter professionally and establish whether there was fraud or not.

It is unfortunate that instead of resorting to such an objective avenue, Mr Rodrigues has chosen the investigative journalism of Talitakum magazine.

Dr Juan Federer 
Chief Executive Officer 
Timor Aid

Original article

Dili, 02 September 01

Bahasa Indonesia Headlines ≠ Thursday 29 August 2001

1. Timor Aid staffer accuses NGO of manipulating financial report (Investigative report by Talitakum news magazine)

[Editorís Note: Efforts were made by Talitakum to contact Dr Juan Federer, the Chief Executive Officer of Timor Aid, to answer the allegations of misappropriation of funds but to no avail. On Sunday 12, August Talitakum went to his house to try to interview him but our reporters were met at the gate by a Timorese who told us he was away. However, the Timorese man said we could meet Dr Federer the next day in his office. Strangely, Dr Federerís car was parked outside.

The next day, Monday 13 August, Talitakum went to the Timor Aid office together with a reporter from TVTL, who also wanted to interview Dr Federer. But they were turned away by his secretary who said they did not have an appointment to meet him. However, the secretary promised they could meet him on Wednesday 15 August.

That Wednesday when the reporters went over to Timor Aid, Dr Federerís secretary told them that he was away. Talitakum never gave up. Our reporter then went to his house in the Dili suburb of Lecidere, but he was told by the security guard that Dr Federer was at the Timor Aid office. It was quite clear that Dr Federer did not want to talk to Talitakum to answer these serious allegations.]

Talitakum first received reports that donor funds had gone missing in Timor Aidís Boat Building Project and decided to investigate. The weekly interviewed the Projectís Manager Pedro Maria Rodrigues, who decided to speak to the media at the risk of losing his job. Pedro is still employed by Timor Aid and has sought legal assistance.

According to Pedro about US$50,000 out of US$100,000 in donor funds from Iceland for the boat-building project on Atauro Island had gone missing. Timor Aidís Boat-Building Project only began in May this year but Pedroís July report for the donors was altered by the management to state the project had started in January 2001.

The altered report that was made in his name by the Timor Aid management stated US$47,929.26 had been spent on the project for the period ending 31 January 2001 and US$2,068.16 still remained.

But Pedro told Talitakum that the agreement with local boat-builders was only signed in May and the first recruitments for the project were made in early June. Three boats were built, on Atauro Island, at the end of July.

The donorsí report he was forced to sign stated that boats were first built in January.

Pedro is from Los Palos and has had seven years experience working for the Japan Tuna Association.

Talitakumís Guilherme da Silva and Aquino Vieira interview Timor Aidís Boat Building Project Manager Pedro Maria Rodrigues. 

Q. Can you shed more light on this project?

A. Before I prepared the July report for the Iceland donors, I was told by the management that I had to submit it to them and that they would correct it and send it straight to the donors. When I protested, they said I had no right to do so myself. It was quite clear they had already made up their minds to manipulate the July report. They sent off the final July report to Iceland without consulting me as the project manager.

My name, as project manager was on the report and I confronted them on learning what had been done. A management meeting was called and it was attended by the CEO Juan Federer and others, including his wife and the office manager. I said the July report was inaccurate because it did not reflect the reality on the ground. I asked Juan Federer who was responsible and Juan threw the question back to me.

I protested strongly at the meeting. I told the management people present that I did not want my name and the name of my country to be tarnished internationally.

Q. What youíre actually saying is that there was a wide discrepancy between the funds available and the activities in the field?

A. Itís this. The agreement for the project was signed with local contractors in May 2001. In July we started recruiting the local people we wanted to train in boat-building. On 2 July we got trainers from Indonesia and on 3 July we started boat-building.

But the altered July financial report in my name states that boat-building began in January 2001. My reputation, now, is at stake. If the donors ask : ďWhere are the boats you built in January?í what am I going to answer.

Q. So thereís clearly a difference between the report you did and the report done by management. How can you reconcile the differences?

A. Obviously we are on opposite ends. A clear example is in the financial report. As a local project manager my actual salary is US$290 a month. In the financial report, done by the management for the donors, my salary was quoted at US$543. So where has the difference gone?

Q. It seems your reputation now is at stake. If you do not resolve this matter within Timor Aid are you willing to go to the courts? If so, what will be your argument?

A. Firstly, Timor Aid is supposedly owned by Timorese. And I do not want anyone, especially outsiders, to use the name of this country to make profits. This is a good opportunity [by taking the matter to court] to get the truth out. I donít think itís much of a problem if you do want to do business here. But please do not use the name of Timor Aid ≠ which is owned by the Timorese people. The donors money is for helping the Timorese people.

If this matter is taken to court, I have financial documents from 1999, 2000 and 2001 to indicate what was reported to the donors in terms of local salaries. The figures were inflated. What the local staff got was much less.

Q. So youíre willing to go to court with these documents?

A. Yes, Iím willing.

Q. At the expense of being sacked?

A. Iíve considered all the risks. If Iím sacked itís not much of a problem. But I want the reasons in writing.

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