The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has suspended all funding to the denomination's East Africa Annual (regional) Conference, effective immediately.
The decision was announced Aug. 8 after a recommendation by the mission agency's independent audit committee during its annual meeting. The total amount of the funds or what proportion those funds represent in the conference's annual budget could not be determined immediately.
In a report submitted to Global Ministries, the auditors noted they had conducted three internal audits of the conference treasury in Kampala, Uganda, since April 2011. The most recent audit - as complete as possible with the available records - was done during a two-week period ending June 30, 2012, and covered projects funded from 2009, 2010, and 2011.
The report recommended "that all funds for the conference be suspended indefinitely, until such time as the EAAC is prepared to accept responsibility to be accountable and all internal controls have been put in place."
The audit report was emailed to Bishop Daniel Wandabula, who has led the East Africa Conference since 2006. Wandabula is up for re-election when the Africa Central Conference meets Aug. 16-19 in Nairobi, Kenya. Unlike in the United States, central conference bishops are not elected for life.
The Global Ministries audit committee said it would continue "to seek resolution on the outstanding issues."
Boston Area Bishop Peter Weaver chairs the independent audit committee, which oversees the work of all projects supported by the Board of Global Ministries. Committee members meet in conference calls throughout the year and in person every August.
The committee said it had worked diligently on this matter over the past two years. Through three audits since April 2011 they have grappled with lack of adequate documentation, lack of financial procedures, and an inability to verify the use of funds as designated.
In the fall of 2011, for example, the mission agency suspended funds for the Humble School in Mukono, Uganda, after a routine four-day on-site audit of funds managed by the conference.
"We carefully monitor how our funds are being used through routine audits, and we also have regional auditors in place," said Thomas Kemper, top staff executive of the mission agency, at the time the audit was announced.
Besides Humble, other projects reviewed and affected by the suspension of funds include the Hope for Africa Children's Choir Music Academy in Mukono, Namunkanaga HIV/AIDS and Malaria Awareness, Trinity United Methodist Church in Wanyange, United Methodist Women Center in Jinja, and the United Methodist Empowerment Center of Jinja.
U.S. conferences provide significant support to United Methodist churches outside the United States. For several years, Linda Gardella helped the Kentucky Conference coordinate its mission work in Uganda. She told United Methodist News Service last year that she was on six mission teams to the area in 2007 and 2008. Part of her work was to find Kentucky churches willing to send $100 a month to individual Ugandan pastors.
Gardella said the conference sent several quarterly checks for $4,200 each to the Board of Global Ministries to provide $200 a month to six Ugandan superintendents and to David Muwaya, the project coordinator. "There was an earlier amount sent for individual pastors, but we never received any accounting, and some pastors said they didn't receive the money," she said.
Wandabula and the Hope for Africa Children's Choir were present at the 2008 Kentucky Annual Conference session when Gardella presented a "memorandum of understanding" that asked the East Africa Conference for accountability "along with other matters of concern to both parties."
Gardella said the conference unanimously approved the memorandum but Wandabula refused to sign, even though the conference sent the bishop a copy of the proposed memorandum before he arrived.
The Kentucky Conference eventually discontinued the effort to provide supplementary salary support for Uganda clergy.
"We discontinued the district superintendent and pastoral financial support program shortly after I came to the Louisville Area," said Bishop Lindsey Davis. "I have found this model for mission funding to be problematic and unsustainable."
However, the bishop says the conference continued to be supportive of "some projects which meet the guidelines and requirements of our missions committee." In 2009-10, the conference gave $49,906 to Volunteer-in-Mission teams, scholarship funds, a women's conference and a women's center in Jinja.
Various participants in mission efforts contacted by United Methodist News Service about the situation in East Africa observed that it is sometimes difficult to understand how the processes work and what is happening in many of the mission endeavors. For more than 25 years, the countries that make up this conference -Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the new nation of South Sudan - have experienced brutal civil wars. The recently completed 2012 General Conference approved the creation of a separate Burundi Annual Conference.
Other disputes have arisen within the Ugandan church in the past year. In the fall of 2011, three men - the Rev. John Kiviiri, a district superintendent in the East Africa Conference; Joseph Kanyike, a mission intern with the Board of Global Ministries; and Joshua Bule, Kiviiri's son - were arrested and charged with attempting to blackmail Wandabula and sending emails accusing the bishop of mishandling funds.
All have been released on bail, and a trial has not yet taken place. If found guilty, the three face from three to 10 years in prison. The Board of Global Ministries hired an attorney for Kanyike.
Pittsburgh Area Bishop Thomas Bickerton noted in 2011 that "in a complex and often chaotic ministry in Africa, resources at times need to be diverted to address more pressing issues. Across the continent it is important to work hard to understand the issues facing those who are directly engaged in these ministries."
In October, the United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination's top court, will review a request from the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, which Bickerton oversees, for a ruling on the legality of certain financial actions and the complaint process.
The conference asked the council to determine whether funds given by members and a district of the Western Pennsylvania Conference to the East African Conference were used in accordance with disciplinary procedures.The conference also asked the council to determine whether a complaint filed by Nancy Denardo, a member of the conference active in mission work in Uganda, was handled in a proper manner.
*Information for this story is based on a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries news release by Melissa Hinnen and reporting by the Rev. J. Richard Peck.
News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn., (615)-742-5470 or [email protected].