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African Diaspora organisation loses charitable status

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A taxpayer-funded foundation set up to manage and promote Bermuda’s historic slavery sites has lost its charitable status — but neither it nor Government will say why.

The African Diaspora Heritage Trail Foundation has received at least $1.6 million in grants from the Department of Tourism since it became a charity in 2007, yet no information has ever been released on how many visitors it has brought to the Island.

The Department refused to answer questions from

The Royal Gazette about trail visitor numbers earlier this month and would not share any pre-2009 financial information for ADHT — though the initiative was launched in 2002 and has received public funding since then.

The Foundation was incorporated as a company in July 2006 by then Tourism Minister Ewart Brown and got charitable status the following year.

It last filed financial statements with the Registry General, as it is required to do by law, in April last year and its charitable status expired in September, since which the Charities Commissioners have opted not to renew it.

Foundation chairman Maxine Esdaille told

The Royal Gazette yesterday that the organisation had “put in a request with the [Home Affairs] Minister for him to reconsider” its charitable status.

Asked why it was revoked, she replied: “I don’t think I can comment on that while it’s still in with the Minister.”

A Tourism spokesman said: “As the ADHT has appealed this decision to the Minister, who has yet to decide on the organisation’s charitable status, it would be inappropriate to comment whilst the process is still active and ongoing.”

A Home Affairs Ministry spokeswoman did not answer questions about the loss of charitable status, saying only in an e-mail: “The charity registration for charity 799 expired on September 13, 2012.”

The ADHT Foundation has largely existed on Tourism grants since it was set up and will receive $150,000 from the public purse this financial year.

Ms Esdaille said it had plans to raise funds elsewhere but had now lost the ability to do so.

“ADHT will continue to do what it can as an organisation,” she said. “We understand that [not having] charitable status does limit us in terms of going to the public for donations.

“[But] we are still about doing the kind of things we think are important to do.”

The Charities Act allows an organisation’s charitable status to be cancelled where it appears to the Registrar General that it “may no longer be a fit and proper organisation”.

The organisation can appeal such cancellations to the Home Affairs Minister and the Minister’s decision is final.

This newspaper has been asking the Department of Tourism questions about ADHT for weeks but it has refused to share the total cost of the initiative since its launch or give any information on how successful it has been.

Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell could not give any figures on how well the ADHT has done at attracting visitors when asked about the topic at a press conference in May.

He said: “Hopefully, by the end of this year, we will have some numbers and will be able to tell if it has any impact.”

In answer to questions about ADHT, a Tourism spokesman said last month: “The African Diaspora Heritage Trail has been in existence since 2002 and has received a government grant annually. This grant has been $150,000 in the past two years.

“The grant is provided through the Bermuda Department of Tourism and the ADHT board has set deliverables and reporting criteria set out in the grant contract.

“There is an annual overseas conference every year, with Bermuda being the host country every five years. The next conference in Bermuda is scheduled for 2015.

“The host country is the one responsible [for] funding the event. Each conference that was held in Bermuda attracted well over 100 delegates from around the world.

“ADHT has its own independent board of directors, chaired by Mrs Maxine Esdaille since 2011. The board consists of a wide cross section of very knowledgeable and learned experts, including three overseas members who participate in board meetings by conference call.

“The organisation has recently advertised for an executive director, currently vacant, and the only paid position in the organisation. Board members are not paid and the annual budget supports all initiatives for the year.

“The annual budgeted grant includes all costs, including running the office and paying the executive director.”

The Department was unwilling to share the grant contract or the “set deliverables and reporting criteria” with this newspaper.

Useful website: www.adht.bm

About ADHT

The African Diaspora Heritage Trail began in 2002, the brainchild of the late Tourism Minister David Allen, with the aim of promoting “socially conscious travel to sites identified as relevant and important to the global narrative of people and culture of African descent”.

An inaugural conference was held here that year and three further conferences have been held here since, in 2006, 2008 and 2010, plus a “planning conference” in 2005.

The ADHT Foundation was set up to manage the Trail in 2006 under then Tourism Minister Ewart Brown. One of its mottos is: “Empowering people of African descent, promoting cultural integrity and achieving financial viability.”

But it has done little successful fundraising since it began, with the Foundation’s main source of revenue being a sizeable annual grant from the Department of Tourism.

The amount given is not made public in the Government’s annual Budget book, but hidden in a line item listed only as “Tourism: contribution promotional services”.

And when

The Royal Gazette asked the Department for information on the total amount spent on the Trail since 2002, it hit a brick wall.

Tourism bosses would only share figures for the last five years, going back no further than 2009. They disclosed that the Foundation has been given a total of $1,126,000 in grants from the public purse since then.

We visited the office of the Registrar General, where the ADHT Foundation must file financials every year, to try to get figures for earlier years but came away with an incomplete picture.

The documents there give information only back to 2007, when it became a charity, allowing us to calculate a total of $1,662,914 in grants in the last seven years.

No details were available on what was spent before then and the Department of Tourism would not reveal whether it tracks the number of tourists who come here to visit the Trail.

It also refused to say how many tickets have been sold to each of the conferences held here and whether any of the events made a profit.

Foundation chairman Maxine Esdaille told this newspaper she did not have information on the organisation’s finances before 2011.

We first asked her questions on July 1 and yesterday afternoon she advised us to approach Foundation treasurer Olu Bademosi for answers. He did not respond to an e-mail by press time.

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Published July 04, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated July 24, 2013 at 9:40 pm)

African Diaspora organisation loses charitable status

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