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Internal squabbles cost TRC funding

Business

…as NGO main funding is suspended

Nthatuoa Koeshe

Human Rights group, Transformation Resource Centre (TRC)’s main funder Brot Fur Die Welt has suspended its funding to allow the civil society organisation, time and space to put its house in order following grievances and allegations leveled against its Executive Director Tsikoane Peshoane.

Earlier this year, TRC came under the spotlight for allegations of misappropriation of the organisation’s funds, abuse of power as well as mismanagement of the organisation by its head.

Peshoane was accused of running the institution onto its knees by misappropriating funds to have them spent elsewhere.

At the time, a group of about 16 TRC staff members wrote to the Executive Board listing a litany of grievances against Peshoane which included unfair labour practices, poor financial management, poor project management, misuse of organisational assets, staff welfare and organisational welfare, earlier this year.

Soon thereafter, six women reported to the police in the capital Maseru that Peshoane abused his power as the Executive Director and sexually harassed them with impunity for months. The women opened a charge of sexual harassment against him, but the case has not been heard in court as it still remains with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, for due prosecution.

The employees’ petition to the board laid a nuanced account of how Peshoane as the Executive Director went against the ideals and principles of accountability, transparency and human rights protection that the organisation espoused.

One of Peshoane’s sexual harassment accusers said that when she had reported Peshoane’s behaviour she was told by her immediate supervisors that “a vagina does not have mileage, plus that person [Peshoane] would not be boring a new hole on you”.

According to the plaintiffs, Peshoane would constantly make sexual comments which made them feel uncomfortable or touch them in ways they detested such as brushing his genitalia against their buttocks while holding them from behind.

Another woman said Peshoane locked her in his office, and then started his sexual advances on her.

“After locking the door, he touched me and fondled my breasts and it went as far as taking off his clothes, thus displaying his genitalia. He put his hands into my panties and touched my vagina and I resisted by tightening my thighs.

“At some point in time, he had stuck his tongue into my ear and was breathing heavily to my ears in an attempt to seduce me,” said another woman.

The lady further said Peshoane would threaten her whenever she resisted and this ended up with her contract of employment with TRC not being renewed.

Another woman detailed how Peshoane would demand she seats next to him in meetings and he would start touching her thighs or caressing her inner hand.

“He would give me disgusting looks all the time. He would also pawn us to his male counterparts during crucial meetings and or parties with stakeholders,” another woman said.

According to the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 a sexual act means “direct or indirect contact with the anus, breasts, penis, buttocks, thighs or vagina of one person and any other part of the body of another person; or exposure or display of the genital organs of one person to another person”.

And the Act interprets coercive circumstances to include but not limited to any circumstances where: “there is an application of force, whether explicit or implicit, direct or indirect, physical or psychological against any person or animal”.

Motinyane did not answer any of Newsday’s questions regarding the progress of the matter. 

She told Newsday to follow the case’s progress in court as her office does not report to the media about its work.

On the TRC employees’ grievances, the board exonerated Tsikoane when it concluded that certain grievances by staff were misconstrued and unfounded. And whilst finding others legitimate, the board explained that some of the allegations were not the doings of the Executive Director and could not hold him liable for them. 

Speaking with this paper in Maseru this week, Brot Fur Die Welt’s representative Katalina Von Demel, said they take allegations and grievances leveled against the TRC head very seriously, and cases of this nature are investigated by a special unit.

TRC staff are fortunate that the board is actively involved in the case and has responded to them actively, Venn Demel said.

“We have close contact with the board and we are aware that the board conducted their own independent investigations and shared information with us,” she explained.

Demel indicated that since the matter started, they ceased any communication with Peshoane or the management of the organisation and communicated with the board.

She told Newsday that they do not want to be involved at all in the internal procedures of the organisation as “… we have the investigation reports from the board and have elaborated an action plan to overcome the internal crisis”. 

TRC is currently in a process of capacity-building its financial administration, with the plans that Brot Fur Die Welt would re-audit the organisation’s financial books and records.

Demel said at the moment they have not selected any auditor as TRC is usually audited every six months but due to the pending allegations it has been postponed to next year. Additionally, TRC was “not lucky with the last audit report” and this period will allow the organisation to clean up its books ahead of the re-audit.  â€œHopefully we will have a better overview after,” Demel added.

She said there haven’t been any further decisions taken because the organisation is still in the process of the investigation and stressed that they have suspended funding for TRC until the re-audit.

TRC can continue operating with the remaining funds or any other new grants they may acquire. The organisation could still qualify for more funding should the results of the re-audit be to the TRC’s favour.

“We take the grievances very serious and have discussed it. During my time here I have spoken with the groups and the employees who wrote to the board because it’s not easy for us to understand what is going on as this has taken almost half a year,” Demel said.

Contacted for a comment yesterday, Peshoane was not available until when he eventually told this publication that he was held up in meetings and will only be able to talk today.

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