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Fees for Top Charity Officials Criticised

Published tisdag 19 januari 2010 kl 20.45

An unusually high donation by a Swedish businessman, to victims of the earthquake in Haiti, has sparked a debate about the fees given to the board members in charities.

Last week, the Swedish financer Roger Hakelius announced that he would donate 14 million US dollars to the organisation SOS-Kinderdorf and its work in Haiti. He said that he had carefully reviewed a number of organisations and their projects, and not the least their financial routines, and come to the conclusion that this was the best one. In particular, Hakelius was happy that SOS Kinderdorf does not pay any fee's to its board members.

The money is to be used during a 25-year period to support and educate the approximately 400 children who live in the two orphanages in Haiti run by the organisation. Representatives of the Swedish branch of SOS Kinderdorf said they were overwhelmed and very grateful for the donation, which would mean that additional support would be given to the children, like for example further education.

But Roger Hakelius did not stop there. He went on to criticise the Swedish Red Cross, whose chairman of the board Bengt Westerberg receives 116,000 US dollars per year for the work he does for the organisation. This week the two met in a debate in Swedish Radio. With thinly veiled sarcasm, Roger Hakelius said that he had nothing in principle against fees for board members in voluntary organisations..

"That is fine," he said, "as long as you clearly say so and let the donors decide. If you say in an ad that the first 10,000 payments of 100 crowns you give to the Red Cross, will in full go to Bengt Westerberg, the next 5,000 payments via text messages of 100 crown will go to his trips - and then the donors themselves can decide if they think it is right or wrong. I for my part think it is completely wrong."

Bengt Westerberg was not late to reply. He pointed out that not one öre - or penny, or cent - of the money donated to the Red Cross will go to his salary.That is instead fully paid for by the membership fees. And it is the members themselves who decide which role their chairman is going to have, what work he is going to do, and how much he is going to be paid.

Bengt Westerberg explained that the Swedish Red Cross has had a paid chairman for last 20 years, since the members wanted an elected chairman taking on a large amount of responsibilities.

"It is up to every organisation to decide what kind of structure they want in order to get the most out of the membership fees. And in the case of the Swedish Red Cross, whether they want 10 members of staff in the office or nine members of staff and one elected chairman, which if he does not do his job properly, they can get rid of easier than an employee," said Westerberg.

Serving as a backdrop to this debate, is the case of a former official at the Red Cross, who is suspected of embezzling one million US dollars donated to the organisation and the Swedish Cancer Society. The man is currently awaiting trial and risks up to six year in jail.

Roger Hakelius sees this as a proof that the expensive top officials in the Red Cross cannot even do their job properly. Bengt Westerberg was quick to bite back. He said the Red Cross has got very qualified auditors, but that audits do not protect you from crime. You know that, from all your years in business, he told Hakelius. Well, said Hakelius, in the very few cases I have come across it, I fired them within the hour. Well so did we, replied Westerberg.

Apart from working for the Swedish Red Cross, Bengt Westerberg has a number of other assignments for other organisations. How have you got time for that, when you are supposed to work full time for the Red Cross? the reporter asked.

"A lot of the work for the Red Cross is in evenings and on weekends," he said, "so I have got some time free during the day. It is like a kind of hobby, you might have other hobbies, this is mine."

What about you, said the reporter turning to Hakelius. Is it really ok to make such conditions on a donation, as you have done? What would you do if SOS Kinderdorf would - say in ten years time - want to increase the fee for their chairman of the board, will you pull back your money then?

"Now that I have got involved in this way, I cannot just abandon these 400 kids, it is as if I have adopted them. So if there - against any imaginable expectation - would be a scandal within SOS Kinderdorf in ten or twenty years time, I will of course go in and take over the the full responsibility for these children instead," replied Roger Hakelius.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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