The supervisory body of Ukraine aid organizer NGO Slava Ukraini has decided to hold a review process following suspicions of misuse of funds. The NGO's management board will in the future have other members besides executive manager Johanna-Maria Lehtme.
Following two days of meetings, the organization's supervisory body decided on Saturday to hold a review process to look at recent activities, suspending cash transfers to Ukraine for the time being. The supervisory body also decided that Lehtme will not continue as the only board member in the future.
"The supervisory and management boards have received troubling signals regarding the credibility of two Ukrainian partners with ties to one another. Because all such hints need to be taken extremely seriously, the board and the supervisory body have decided to procure a financial audit and review to determine whether the actions of the Ukrainian partners have been effective enough. Payments to the partners in question have been suspended for the duration of the review process," Slava Ukraini's supervisory board said.
Its member Kristo Tohver told ERR that the suspicions concern projects in Ukraine, not in Estonia.
"We have received information in recent weeks that there are suspicions in Ukraine regarding cooperation of two organizations with ties to one another. As concerns the efficiency of use of funds. /.../ This rather concerns projects pursued on location, not activities in Estonia," Tohver said.
Neither Tohver nor Slava Ukraini manager Johanna-Maria Lehtme agreed to explain the ties between the suspected organizations on Sunday. They did not say which projects are questionable. ERR's information suggests the projects in question are connected to the "Christmas of Hope in Ukraine" aid packages and efforts to build guerilla ambulances in Ukraine.
Tohver also refused to shed light on what kind of sums the suspicions concern. "It is something regarding which I cannot speculate, I do not have the capacity to answer that question, which is why we are assembling a review panel," he said.
The supervisory body added that no further comments about the details will be given until the audit is done. Lehtme agreed with the proposals, the body said Sunday.
Slava Ukraini will hold its general meeting on March 20 by which time it will have found the auditor. Tohver hopes to have the review results by end of April.
Lehtme to continue as head of NGO
The five-member supervisory panel did not terminate executive manager Lehtme even though it suspects between tens and hundreds of thousands of euros of donors' money has not been used purposefully.
Lehtme told ERR that she will continue as a board member of the nonprofit. "We have brilliant cooperation, effective dialogue with members of the supervisory board. I believe we have enough trust between us to solve potential problems," she said.
Lehtme did not say whether she plans to resign should the audit confirm misuse of funds. "I believe it is once more a matter of dialogue in terms of my feelings and those of the supervisory body."
Johanna-Maria Lehtme is currently the only member of the NGO's management board. Tohver said that the supervisory body will soon send her help.
"We will help her carry out the review, shape organizational processes to avoid such suspicions being created in the future, involve experts in the management board to support Johanna and make sure such situations do not crop up again," Tohver said, adding that the supervisory and management boards will tackle all problems together, involving experts.
Information available to ERR suggests the supervisory body of Slava Ukraini asked Lehtme and financial manager Kristjan Mesipuu to put together an overview of recent activities on Friday. The report had to contain the NGO's expenses as well as cooperation projects with nonprofits and companies in Ukraine.
The supervisory body first convened to discuss the organization's financial affairs on March 3, meeting with Lehtme and Mesipuu to go over documents on Friday, March 10.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the NGO does not have an official supervisory board. Slava Ukraini is managed by a board of between one and five members appointed for a term of two years by its general assembly. The latter can also remove board members. The general assembly is made up of all members. The organization's statutes also provide that the general assembly's decisions are binding irrespective of how many members vote. It is unknown how many members Slava Ukraini has.
This effectively makes the five-member supervisory board merely an advisory body the official say in matters of which is limited to that of five general assembly delegates.
Slava Ukraini's management board initially consisted of all three founding members – Elo Laura Aaspõllu, Janeli Puusaag and Johanna-Maria Lehtme. The former two left the board in early January after being absent from effective management since last summer.
The supervisory body said on Sunday that it has decided to expand the management board as the organization has grown and needs constant and thorough management, division of roles and supervision.
Slava Ukraini has collected a total of €6.5 million in donations to help Ukraine fight off Russian aggression. Among other things, it has put together 186,000 aid packages for Ukrainians living near the front line for €1.1 million.
The NGO has also helped Ukrainian military units with medical and personal protection devices and is funding medical trainings in Ukraine.
In addition to 54 fully equipped ambulances sent from Estonia, so-called guerilla ambulances are built on location – vehicles that can traverse rough terrain and bring the injured back from the front.
Lehtme elected to Riigikogu
Johanna-Maria Lehtme ran for the Riigikogu in the March 5 election in the ranks of the Eesti 200 party and was elected. She took 5,251 votes in the electoral district made up of the Haabersti, Põhja-Tallinn and Kristiine districts of the capital, second only to Reform Party's Kristen Michal. Lehtme put in the best result out of all Eesti 200 candidates.
In February, President Alar Karis bestowed on Lehtme the Order of the White Star Class IV. She was picked daily Postimees' person of the year in January and woman of the year by the Anne&Stiil magazine. Johanna-Maria Lehtme also received the logistics feat of the year award in December and was designated European of the Year by the Estonian representation of the European Commission last May.
Editor: Marcus Turovski