I was perusing the TheWaterChannel website when I encountered a provocative post (29 April 2013) by Frank van Steenbergen on TheWaterBlog. If the name sounds familiar to you, he is the co-founder and co-manager of TheWaterChannel.
Van Steenbergen pulls no punches. He begins:
If you would head an organization whose mandate is to protect of the rights of children, help meet their basic needs and raise resources to achieve this.
And if that same organization, upon receiving funds from donors would take between six to eighteen months to get the paper work ready for things to roll out, mainly because of internal procedures and compliance mechanisms (that is what I observed, if it is an odd exception I stand corrected and humbly apologize but I am led to believe it is not exceptional)…
And if you would charge between 7-13% as handling fee on these funds for providing this belated service…
How would you feel?
So what's next? Here goes:
I for one would not feel good. The reason is that by delaying implementation with say one year several thousand mothers and children have no access to clean water for that one year. This means more diarrhea, more morbidity, more retarded development. I would then not feel proud of receiving a salary upwards of what some heads of state make.
The name of the organization is UNICEF (but it is not the only one) and this open letter is based on several water and sanitation programs [emboldening mine] I have seen it is entrusted to manage in Africa. Not only are delays common, what is worse, no one seems be bothered or angry. Obviously it is a much larger crime to break unwieldy rules than to speed up and deliver development to needy people. It is not unusual that not only starting dates of programs are postponed but also that the time to implement is shortened because first fiduciary (who invented that word!) had to be fulfilled. Here is an issue of leadership and priorities. There is an expression in my country: ‘throwing away the baby with the washing water’, and this is what it is.
I checked the U.S. Fund for UNICEF's website and the expenditures look pretty reasonable. But this is the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and has to file 990 forms with the IRS. But I am sure van Steenbergen is talking about UNICEF itself.
These could be serious allegations. But I have to say that a 7-13% 'handling fee' is not outrageous. If that is the overhead, that is certainly not high; in fact, it strikes me as low. For a US nonprofit such a rate for administrative expenses is not outlandish. And just several programs? Delays? You mean van Steenbergen has not run into delays and other snafus, esepcially when working on WatSan projects in emerging regions? It's a tragedy that the delays led to the consequences he indicated.
There is no indication that van Steenbergen has sought an explanation from UNICEF for the cases he cites. Was UNICEF given an opportunity to reply?
In any case, van Steenbergen needs to be more specific.
I am curious to see if there are any comments; there are none so far. I have left one - a link to this post.
Is this letter unfair? Judge for yourself. Based on the content provided, I think it is.
"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please." - Mark Twain