AWEMA and the motives at work.

 

"Race body under question" was the headline back in 2003.

The then three year old body facing allegations of questionable financial procedures and racism was AWEMA. The All Wales Ethnic Minority Association was set up to give Wales' ethnic minority population "a voice in policy-making". It had received £1m in public funding - a sum that's grown, since then, to £8.5m.

AWEMA was, says our story, "at the centre of a vicious, unseemly row over the way it is being run".

Nine years later, it is there again.

Last month both the Western Mail and BBC Wales reported that a former vice chair of AWEMA was calling on the Chief Executive, Naz Malik and those running the organisation, to stand down. An independent review had found Mr Malik had admitted to gross misconduct and that the organisation's own rules dictated that he should go. He hadn't.

A week later, the news came that the Welsh European Funding Office was holding back £3m from AWEMA. The Big Lottery Fund had withdrawn its funding and the Welsh government, which was "liaising with the police" had suspended payments.

On the last day of the month the photograph alongside the latest story on AWEMA had changed. It wasn't Naz Malik. It was Wales' top civil servant, the Permanent Secretary, Gillian Morgan. She was appearing before the Public Accounts committee in Cardiff Bay and admitting that with regard to grants programmes, "it's clear that sometimes we have not necessarily been - and this is a big historical thing - as robust in making sure organisations have all the standards we would expect."

There were questions for the Charity Commission to answer, she said and the government itself ought to have clocked that AWEMA was a body they should have graded as "high risk".

By February 2nd there were allegations of bullying at Awema. The Chair, Rita Austin, appeared on a feisty Dragon's Eye to discuss what measures she'd taken since her appointment to deal with what was clearly an unhappy ship.

The questions piled up. So did the criticism.

The leader of the opposition - Andrew RT Davies - wanted the First Minister to address the allegations. He wanted him to "give assurances that this isn't Welsh Labour looking after one of its own". His point, that Naz Malik is a well known Labour supporter. It was, said Labour, a grubby point. Mr Davies was guilty of "grubby politicking".

So far, so bitter ...

Today, it got even more so.

As Chair of the trustees, Rita Austin has written a message on the AWEMA website. It makes two allegations: that those who've been asking questions and those who've been critical of the organisation are both politically - and racially - motivated.

"It has become increasingly clear in recent days that AWEMA has become the stick with which to beat the Welsh Government. The glee with which the Press and TV convey the partisan attacks of opposition politicians is catching AWEMA in its backwash, creating the unedifying spectacle of a concerted attempt by powerful institutions to characterise AWEMA as a corrupt organisation: a time honoured way of debasing and devaluing the contributions of black and minority ethnic people, often on the basis of scant evidence, which is well known to many of us".

AWEMA is in the spotlight, she says, not because of what its leaders have done but because of what it is - a race relations body.

Before the end of the week - on Thursday at a best guess - we expect the Welsh Government to publish its report into AWEMA and to answer a key question: whether it should continue to receive public money.

And here's another key question: did the last report into AWEMA, set in train by the then social justice minister, Edwina Hart in 2003, suggest it was time to stop its public funding? We don't know because the review has never been made public.

Let's see how much light is shed on things come Thursday.

 
Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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