State authorities are examining governance and regulatory matters related to WE Charity’s activities in Kenya, including “assets and officials” at the Kenyan affiliate of the charity, according to the agency that oversees the charitable and non-profit sector in the country.
The NGOs Co-ordination Board, the state agency that registers and regulates non-governmental organizations in Kenya, issued a statement on Friday saying that it is “looking into” the assets and governance issues at the charity because of “new information and happenings.”
The Kenyan affiliate of the charity, known as Free the Children, was registered in Kenya in 2008. It runs schools, health clinics and an extensive youth volunteer program. WE Charity itself is not registered in Kenya.
The board did not disclose any specific reason for the review. There are a number of private companies and real estate holdings in Kenya with links to the WE organization or to its founders, brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger. The organization has been embroiled in disputes with two Kenyans who had been senior employees of the charity in Kenya.
The Liberals sought to distance themselves from the organization on Friday. “As previously stated, the choice of third party to administer the Canada Student Service Grant was made by the public service,” said Danielle Keenan, spokesperson for Youth Minister Bardish Chagger. The ultimate decision, however, rested with cabinet, which awarded WE charity the contract to administer the program on May 22.
An example of Kenyan assets with links to the WE Charity is a list of 30 motor vehicles owned by Me to We Ltd., the social enterprise of the WE organization, and approved for transfer to another WE-connected company in Kenya. The acquisition was approved in 2018 by the Kenyan Competition Authority, according to the authority’s public records.
The 30 vehicles, including Land Rovers and Toyota Hilux vehicles, were approved for acquisition by Minga Ltd., a company registered in Nairobi in 2017. Corporate records obtained by The Globe and Mail show that the shareholders and directors of Minga Ltd. at the time of its registration were Marc Kielburger and Robin Wiszowaty, who is listed on LinkedIn as the Kenyan project director for Free the Children. It is unclear if these motor vehicles are among the assets to be reviewed by the Kenyan regulator.
In response to questions from The Globe on Friday, WE Charity said it is not facing any formal investigation in Kenya. It said the NGO Board’s press statement was issued in response to news media inquiries and correspondence from Marc Kielburger seeking to “correct the public record" about allegations from a former employee.
The charity provided an e-mail, dated Thursday this week, in which the NGO Board’s executive director, Mutuma Nkanata, said the board was receiving many news inquiries about the charity. “In line with our regulatory role, the board intends to visit Free the Children projects being undertaken in Narok,” Mr. Nkanata said in the e-mail.
The charity, in response to The Globe’s questions, said it interpreted the board’s press statement as support for the charity’s belief that its transfers of assets were appropriate.
In its press statement on Friday, the NGO board said it had “investigated allegations of irregular transfer of property” by Free the Children in 2018. During the course of this probe, the regulator said it “put measures in place to safeguard the said property” – including a request for a caveat to be placed on a piece of land held by the organization. It said the request was later withdrawn.
The charity, in its statement to The Globe, said it had found “financial irregularities” in its Kenyan affiliate in 2017. As a result, it said, experts had recommended that its Kenyan assets should be transferred to be held in trust for WE Charity Canada.
Lawyers also found that the charity is not legally allowed to own agricultural land in Kenya, it said. This led to asset transfers to “ensure the protection of charity assets.”
The charity said it hired an accounting expert who concluded that the asset transfers were legal and did not provide any financial benefits to the Kielburger family.
This week, in Ottawa, the federal Conservatives pushed for the Canadian WE Charity controversy to be studied again by House of Commons committees. After the Liberals delayed the attempt, the Conservatives tabled a motion that would allow them to raise the matter in the House during opposition day on Tuesday.
Three committees of the House of Commons had been studying the government’s decision to award WE Charity a now-cancelled contract to administer the Canada Student Service Grant, but the probes were shut down when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament in August.
The federal Lobbying Commissioner and the RCMP have also been examining issues related to WE Charity.
The charity announced last month that it would close its Canadian operations and its founders would leave the organization.
With reports from Marieke Walsh in Ottawa, Stephanie Chambers in Toronto and Winnie Kamau in Nairobi.
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