Bishops face penalties for auditing issues

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Editor's note: On Dec. 3, this story was corrected. Due to a clerical error, Bishop José Quipungo’s salary was initially misreported as less than other African bishops in the first quarter of 2015. He will make the same as his African colleagues during the first quarter. Also Bishop Quipungo has responded to questions from United Methodist News Service on both Dec. 2 and 3.

The board of The United Methodist Church’s finance agency is taking separate actions against two African bishops over financial and accounting issues.

In one instance, the General Council on Finance and Administration board decided Nov. 21 that the finance agency will withhold funds from East Angola Area Bishop José Quipungo’s episcopal office until he provides “a satisfactory episcopal office” audit.

The finance agency’s board also continues to sanction East Africa Area Bishop Daniel Wandabula, who faces longstanding questions for how his episcopal area has used more than $757,000 in church funds.

Quipungo’s salary will be the same as other African bishops for the first quarter of 2015. But after the first quarter, his salary could be reduced to $1,000 a month if GCFA still does not have a complete accounting.

Quipungo’s accounting issues are not as extreme as Wandabula’s.

In 2012, the GCFA board took the unprecedented step of setting a lower salary for Wandabula until he provided a satisfactory accounting. Since then, the bishop’s salary has been $1,000 a month. On Nov. 21, the board set his 2015 pay at an amount equal to his monthly health plan and pension contributions, but did not give a dollar figure for that.

Additionally, GCFA will not pay Wandabula’s housing or office allowance. The agency will continue to reimburse his reasonable travel expenses.

The board’s earlier formal complaint against Wandabula remains unresolved.

Quipungo on Dec. 2 responded to emails from United Methodist News Service. He said his finance department is ready for an audit, and he is waiting for auditors to be sent from the United States. He added on Dec. 3 that GCFA has not received an audit because he doesn't have the funds to pay auditors in Malanje, Angola, where his office is located. 

GCFA staff said bishops are responsible for arranging audits to take place. Staff members are working with the bishop to resolve the matter. 

Wandabula did not immediately respond to inquiries either. GCFA delayed announcing the decisions until the bishops were notified.

GCFA authority

General Conference, the denomination’s top policymaking body, requires bishops’ offices to submit to an audit each year based on approved International Standards on Auditing.

If a written report is not provided to GCFA by July 31 of the following year, the agency will “have the right to suspend funding to the episcopal area.”

The finance agency also has the power to modify amounts within the Episcopal Fund, which supports bishops within and beyond the United States.

This is the second time this year the GCFA board publicly urged a bishop to account for the use of church money. In May, it asked the West Angola Bishop Gaspar João Domingos to account for how his office spent $100,000 designated for theological education.

Since then, GCFA has announced that the bishop and the agency have made progress in resolving the issue. The board expects work on the Bishop Emilio DeCarvalho Theological Center — the funds’ intended use — to be completed by the end of March next year.

Bishop Wandabula’s situation

The Wandabula case is different.

The GCFA board took action against Wandabula after three unfavorable audits of his East Africa Conference office’s use of mission funds. 

"The financial procedures, record keeping, and internal controls as practiced by the East Africa Annual Conference Office were found to be lacking in virtually every area,” said the last audit by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. It was conducted in June 2012.

In August 2012,  Global Ministries — the denomination’s missions agency — suspended funding through the Advance, the denomination's designated-giving program, to the East Africa Conference.

A month later, the GCFA board followed that up by advising all United Methodist bodies to withhold funds from the East Africa Conference office until the resolution of the auditing issues and said it was filing a formal complaint against Wandabula. It then took the step of lowering his salary.

Wandabula in an October 2012 email blamed the actions of the denomination's mission and finance agencies on a campaign “of malice, mudslinging, character lynching and insurrection.” He contended the agencies were siding with a blackmail attempt by an anonymous emailer who used the name "Journey Jonah."

In August 2013, the GCFA board listed steps for resolving the audit issues in East Africa. Those steps included Wandabula repaying unaccounted for money and his resignation as bishop.

Separately, the Western Pennsylvania Conference had asked for several rulings from the United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, regarding the use of more than $100,000 in funds the conference gave to the East Africa Conference.

In October 2014, Judicial Council made two separate rulings related to the ongoing dispute between Western Pennsylvania and East Africa.

In one ruling, the Judicial Council said that the partnership between Western Pennsylvania and the East Africa Conference does not fall under its jurisdiction. However, it also noted that Wandabula’s office had repaid $3,000 owed to the Western Pennsylvania Conference.

In another ruling, the Judicial Council said a complaint by a conference member against Wandabula “was resolved when the College of Bishops of the Africa Central Conference verified that they had dismissed the charges against Bishop Wandabula.”

However, the GCFA board is still pursuing its complaint against the bishop.

Indiana Area Bishop Michael J. Coyner, president of the finance agency’s board, and Moses Kumar, its top executive, met recently with Wandabula to discuss the complaint. Representatives from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries as well as African bishops also attended the session.

Retired Bishop Peter Weaver, executive secretary of the Council of Bishops and former chair of the audit committee of Global Ministries, served as moderator.

“There was no resolution, so the complaint process continues,” Coyner told the GCFA board on Nov. 21.

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Linda Bloom, a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York, also contributed to this story. Contact Hahn at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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