Wales politics

Awema: Welsh government negligent, says Lib Dem Peter Black

Peter Black AM in the Senedd
Image caption Mr Black asked why Awema was able to continue operating with question marks over its funding

Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black has accused the Welsh government of negligence over the handling of a race relations body at the centre of claims of wrongdoing.

A 2004 report into the All Wales Ethnic Minority Association (Awema) said no new projects should be funded until it demonstrated improved management.

A review into more claims of financial mismanagement is due out on Thursday.

The Welsh government said it would not be appropriate to comment at this time.

The 2004 review, which has just come to light, was the second of three reviews into the performance of Awema.

Legal advice

Awema is currently at the centre of claims of financial mismanagement, with a Welsh government audit into its spending of £8.4m in public funding due to be published on Thursday.

"I'm quite shocked that after so long we have seen similar allegations being addressed in that report (2004) as are coming up now," said Mr Black, Liberal Democrat AM for South West Wales.

"And you have to ask yourself what has been happening over the last eight years whereby an organisation like Awema is able to continue in this way with question marks about its approach to public funding and the management of public funds without ministers apparently taking the appropriate action which is necessary to put that right.

"The fact that we are having similar allegations now indicates to me that the government has been negligent in the way it has actually been dealing with this issue," he told BBC Radio Wales.

An independent report recently recommended that the chief executive, Naz Malik, be suspended pending an inquiry into the allegations.

That recommendation was supported by legal advice sought by the Awema board.

The chair, Rita Austin, did not follow that advice, but did issue Mr Malik with a written warning in relation to his use of expenses, claiming last week that a suspension would have involved unnecessary costs to the charity.

She has said that media coverage of the charity was reminiscent of "a time honoured way of debasing and devaluing the contributions of black and minority ethnic people".

Responding to the 2004 report, a Welsh government spokesman has said that its priority was to handle the current issues with funding Awema.

"However, and as we have already announced, the permanent secretary is currently reviewing the historical funding of the organisation. It would be inappropriate to comment until that work has been completed," he said.

The Welsh government announced last month it was suspending all public funding to Awema because of the concerns raised about the actions of chief executive Naz Malik and others within the organisation.

Opposition politicians said the report, which was found in the assembly's library by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, is evidence that the Welsh government had ignored warnings about the organisation.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies has questioned the scrutiny and due diligence of Awema over the years which he said has been dealing with "serious sums" of public money.

But he also said allegations of bullying within the organisation had to be addressed.

"Yes, the money is vital to have oversight over but also there is the human element here," he told BBC Radio Wales.

"I do believe that the government have negated their responsibility and there are some very, very serious questions to answer at the heart of government."

By 2004, Awema had received £325,000 in taxpayers' money to engage with black and minority ethnic communities.

'High risk'

Even after the review recommended that no further funding be given, the Welsh government continued to fund the charity to the tune of £8.5m.

The most senior civil servant in Wales, Dame Gillian Morgan, accepted last week that Awema should have been designated as "high risk" in terms of receiving public funds, leading to calls for the government to publish the report.

Dr Austin has said that suspending Mr Malik would have incurred great cost, and that she she submitted a serious incident report to the police and Charity Commission before Christmas.

Writing on the charity's website, she said a disciplinary panel into Mr Malik concluded there had been "a completely inappropriate advance of expenses payments, the balance of which the panel instructed had to be repaid the next day".

The matter was regarded as gross misconduct, said Dr Austin, and Mr Malik gave an "open and transparent declaration" and a written warning was placed on his record.

"Should any evidence emerge which contradicts the panel's view, the sanction will be reviewed.

"And of course, should the police think fit at any stage they will take their own enforcement action," she wrote.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites