Audit Concludes: NOSLINA Must Address Financial Operations

Serious financial discrepancies still remain unexplained and unaccounted for, according to NOSLINA's Audit Committee. In a press release issued this week, auditors for the largest diaspora organization that advocates on behalf of Sierra Leonean interests in North America, announced recommendations to improve internal methods of financial management and control.

The audit committee, which covered the period September 2008 to June 2010, is made up of financial experts that NOSLINA's board and executive appointed in June of 2010. The organization called the move a historic step—ordering a first-ever comprehensive audit of the financial operations of the 13-year-old organization.

Donald Taylor, the immediate past chairman of NOSLINA, told us by telephone from California this evening that among the findings, the committee had observed that the organization's checkbook had only one signatory, and its monthly bank reconciliations were either infrequently or incorrectly performed.

"In other words," he explained, "there weren't supporting documents for credits, deposits and withdrawals." He also said that the committee had recommended a yearly audit; two signatories on the organization's checkbook, and a requirement to maintain accurate tracking and reconcile statements monthly.

Dr. Taylor, a professor of communication studies at California State University in Sacramento, and an interim vice president for academic programs and global engagement, is currently serving as chairman emeritus of the National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America, or NOSLINA. He led the organization for more than five years.

"There is no doubt that the constitution called for an annual audit, "Taylor said. "Should I have looked for deeper scrutiny? Yes, I could have instituted formal processes; been in tune with the organization's financial management and resources, but I was focused on building stability and bringing identity," he said.

From cash-strapped charity to major donor

For years, the nonprofit struggled to keep from going under. With little money trickling in and funding almost nonexistent, Taylor said, NOSLINA “relied on donations and loans from dedicated people like the late activist-lawyer Sadu Bah and others. I tried to ensure our fund-raising events were profitable enough to pay our debts."

Under his watch, NOSLINA donated funds to the Arc of Sierra Leone, a non-profit organization whose mission is to build a hospital in the capital city, Freetown; to the Gondobay Manga Foundation (Isaiah Washington’s foundation) for the building of secondary schools in the provinces of Sierra Leone, and to several Sierra Leonean organizations in the United States, including the Ms Sierra Leone DC Beauty Pageant that helps support women empowerment both in the United Sates and in Sierra Leone.

Launched by a small group of concerned Sierra Leoneans and their friends/supporters more than twelve years ago in Washington D.C., NOSLINA's mission was to campaign for an end to a long running, brutal war, restore democracy, and promote sustainable development. Since then, the organization has lobbied the United Sates Congress to support the fledgling democracy, launched educational scholarships for children, and pushed for dual citizenship for Sierra Leoneans abroad so they can be better positioned to help their country of origin.

Don Taylor's predecessor but one, Cecil Blake, also an academic in an American university, served as Sierra Leone's cabinet minister of information and broadcasting and its chief government spokesman between May 2001-2002. Don Taylor was the fourth chairman of the National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America. He was succeeded by Melbourne Garber, a New York-based structural engineer.

Recently, NOSLINA donated medical journals to the cash strapped and resource-poor University of Sierra Leone, and installed dumpsters to help with trash collection and improve sanitation in Freetown, a city with more than 1.2 million people. The organization is also working to initiate community health projects to reduce the incidence of malaria, Lassa fever, and improve maternal and child health.

Conservative estimates say that over 200,000 Sierra Leoneans have migrated from their homeland and settled in North America. According to recent census data, Sierra Leoneans like most African migrants are among America’s rising middle class. Data on remittances from the World Bank indicates that transfers from Sierra Leoneans abroad contributes more than a third of the nation's gross national product.

But with job growth flat and economies weakening; nonprofits like NOSLINA face a real challenge going forward.

'Stewards of the public's trust'

In today's news release, NOSLINA states that after a year of careful scrutiny of all records including —minutes of meetings, financial statements (issued by the treasurer), bank statements and transactions, as well as cash revenue and expenditures, various explanations, statements and other records— the board determined that serious financial discrepancies remained unexplained and unaccounted for.

Under those circumstances the board took action to seek recovery of all unresolved amounts still in discrepancy from its former treasurer and to relieve the treasurer of his duties. The basis for the action was that the treasurer had sole and exclusive access as signatory and account holder for all NOSLINA revenues and expenditures, the organization said.

"It's a step in the right direction to immediately dismiss the treasurer," opined Joseph Coker, a Sierra Leonean accountant  based in North America. "But I think NOSLINA should back up this action by asking the police to file criminal charges, especially if significant amounts are found to be missing," he said. "I suspect the IRS will pick this up and it will definitely have ramifications for NOSLINA's tax exempt status or ability to issue tax deductible receipts to its donors.
    
"The fact that the bank account had only one signatory is the fault of the entire board of directors. Board members should be vigilant and should be actively involved in the activities and operations of an organization. How could such a major flaw in the organization's operations dodge them? The board not participating actively in the organization's operations is also a significant weakness in the organization's internal controls and it should have been highlighted in the auditor's report as well," wrote Coker.

Coker is a senior accountant with Macquarie Financial (an Australian bank), on loan from Canada's Provincial Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.

There is some speculation about what this will mean for NOSLINA. Some expect charitable giving to drop or programs to be cut. Others think the greatest effect will be seen in the reorganization.

In a bid to allay any uncertainty, the press release assured " [W]e as officers of NOSLINA, take the integrity of the organization very seriously, and are determined to ensure that resources donated to NOSLINA are used only for the purposes envisioned. We must be faithful stewards of the public’s trust and must adhere to all practices that underscore fiscal propriety at all times.”

NOSLINA will seek recovery, concluded Don Taylor.



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