Rita Austin suggests race element in Awema attack

Dr Rita Austin Awema's chair says the charity's fate has probably been decided

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Criticism levelled at a charity that faces allegations of financial mismanagement is racially motivated, its chair has suggested.

Rita Austin defended the All Wales Ethnic Minority Association (Awema), saying it had become a "stick to beat the Welsh government".

She claimed attacks on it were a "time honoured way of debasing and devaluing" black and ethnic minority people.

The Welsh government is due to complete a report into Awema this week.

Awema's chief executive, Naz Malik, has been accused of financial irregularities and bullying staff.

A report recommended he be suspended pending a disciplinary hearing. He received a written warning.

Writing on Awema's website, Dr Austin criticises the way the media has covered the allegations and the Welsh government's investigation into them.

Mr Malik has said it would be inappropriate for him to comment while the investigation is on going.

'Unedifying spectacle'

"It has become increasingly clear in recent days that Awema has become the stick with which to beat the Welsh government," wrote Dr Austin.

SUMMARY OF ALLEGATIONS

  • Naz Malik used "Awema funds in an inappropriate way", including paying off credit card debts worth £9,340
  • Mr Malik "has increased his own benefits package without due openness or transparency". This includes Mr Malik's salary being increased to £65,719 without approval from the board
  • Mr Malik "has authorised inappropriate payments, expenses and purchases, which may constitute gross misconduct"
  • Mr Malik's daughter Tegwen Malik "has been employed, and promoted on a number of occasions, without any internal or external competition". It is alleged her salary increased from £20,469 in January 2008 to £50,052 in August 2011
  • Regular claims are made for relatively expensive meals and hotels, including alcoholic drinks
  • The treatment of some junior staff was so poor that it contravened their human rights
  • Source: Paul Dunn's report for trustees

"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."

She adds: "It is as though the great, the good and the powerful have already rushed to judgement and made their minds up about what should happen to Awema, long before the Welsh government internal audit, with which we have been co-operating fully, has reported.

"It was always the way."

She said staff morale at the organisation remained good during "very difficult and trying circumstances".

In a 13-page document, called "Awema speaks out", she says the charity's "future has probably been decided" and says the organisation is likely to be "scapegoated".

"In the battle of perceptions, a small voluntary charitable organisation will always come off last against powerful political machines, national broadcasters and commercial newspapers," she said.

A spokesperson for BBC Cymru Wales said: "Recent events at Awema are a matter of public interest and the story has been widely covered in the media over the past few days as a result.

Seeking assurances

"BBC Cymru Wales will continue to follow the story as it develops".

Awema handles £8.4m of public money, including European and lottery funding.

On Friday, Andrew RT Davies of the Welsh Conservatives wrote to First Minister Carwyn Jones seeking assurances over the investigation into Mr Malik.

The charity's trustees commissioned a report into the allegations against Mr Malik late last year.

Its author, Paul Dunn, told BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye programme last week that nobody from the police, Charity Commission or the Welsh government had contacted him.

South Wales Police said it was awaiting the outcome of an internal Welsh government investigation before considering whether any criminal offences had been committed.

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