That’s the word Ron Sauer used in his letter to me published in the August/September issue reacting to the June Limeblast: ‘More wasted Money’. His letter practically confirms all I have been saying over the years. And he knows! Worst of all his letter confirms that the money wasting organisations and the project factories shrug their shoulders and consider themselves untouchable. Nice title for a next Limeblast ‘The Untouchables’.

Since ‘Transparency’ seems to be a four-letter word to CFC, I wrote last June the following email to the managing director of the Common Fund for Commodities, a UN organisation, in Amsterdam: Dear Mr Mchumo Fully acknowledging that I am not the answer to a prayer of your organisation, you may be aware that my column Limeblast is widely read and from the letters that are received by the editor it is clear that I have far more friends than enemies. Your organisation is not consumer friendly and very secretive and that is regrettable. It makes the public wonder what goes on behind the scenes and it makes a person like me try to find that out in order to inform the public.

Until now your organisation has been very reluctant to give information or offer collaboration. I hope that this time you will grant me your collaboration. I’d like to ask you to reveal the name of the sponsors (countries and/or organisations) of the following CFC projects: 1. Raw hides & skins grading & pricing systems in selected Esalia countries; 2. Adding value to African leather through improvement of quality of leather and leather products; 3. Commercialisation of hides and skins by improving collection and quality in smallholder farming systems in Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe; 4. Grading and pricing of wet-blue hides and skins in selected Western, Eastern and Southern African countries; 5. Workshop on pre-slaughter defects of hides and skins and intervention options in East Africa.

Your Miss Adler was so kind as to send me the official publication in the form of a booklet of the results of the ‘Raw hides & skins grading & pricing systems in selected Esalia countries’ project. I would like to receive the same for the other projects I mentioned above.

Furthermore I would like to ask whether CFC will continue to endorse the project proposal ‘Promotion of wet salting as an improved curing method of hides and skins in high altitude areas of Eastern Africa’, considering that the areas indicated are already successfully curing hides and skins through wet-salting of which I have published photographic proof in the June 2006 Limeblast.

Your comments would be appreciated and looked forward to.

Best regards,

Sam Setter

At first there was no reply but after I wrote a reminder that I considered my letter an open letter which would be published as a Limeblast, I received a reply promising transparency within hours.

Regretfully the content of CFC’s email was disappointing as it offered only generic information, the same one can find on the FAO website. Certainly not an attempt at transparency nor a reply to any of my requests. I was, however, informed that the salting project in ‘High altitude areas of Eastern Africa’ had been abandoned. I hope the June Limeblast had something to do with this and if that’s the case I saved the taxpayers a lot of money and dealt a defeat to one of the project factories. Thanks CFC!

On July 14 I went to the CFC website in order to see if it gives any useful information. I used the CFC project search engine and took the ‘Hides and Skins’ option. The result was a list of twelve countries where CFC projects are currently running. The number of projects involved was six, hence some countries, namely Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, enjoy the pleasure of being included in more than one project.

When you click on each of the six published projects you get a page that states the title of the project. No description, no execution information, no evaluation report, a blank page. No transparency. On the right side of the page you find links to ‘Project Manual’, ‘Project Highlights’, ‘Evaluation’ and I hoped that clicking on these links you’d get relevant information of the chosen project. Nothing of the kind because clicking on these links you get again general information about CFC, how wonderful they are, etc. The website is a vicious circle, that quickly bores.

I did the same research on other commodities and none of the projects I highlighted (potatoes, herbal tea) reported one single useful word on an actual project, not even the basic rhetoric and propaganda. Last but not least I went to the Job Opportunities page and found that ‘All staff members of the Common Fund for Commodities work from its headquarters in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. There are no regional offices. The secretariat currently comprises of 28 staff members. This total number comprises of 12 general service staff members working in administration and support roles and 16 professional service staff working either as part of our project management team or in specialized areas such as finance and administration, accounting and legal units.’

The page concludes that ‘Currently there are no vacancies available’. I won’t comment but I think that any person who manages a business can and will make his or her own conclusions. I am curious, however, how much these 28 people are being paid and how much work they actual do and what they really achieve specifically in the hide and skins sector, the one we can judge.

I have been able to find a price tag for four projects totalling US$8,144,475 whereas for two others I have been unsuccessful. Superfluous to note that the words accounting and accountability don’t appear anywhere. Where and how the money is spent is apparently top secret. We, the trade, all know the practical results which these 8/+ million dollars projects have achieved for the leather industry in the project countries: zero! All we know is that 28 people in Amsterdam have a job and that Project Executing Agencies keep running their air conditioners.

When you go to the ‘News’ section of the CFC website, then you get all the information you want. ‘Ambassador Mr Ali Mchumo, managing director of the CFC, stated that during 2004 the Fund approved a total of 23 projects of which 11 are regular projects and 12 Fast Track projects. The total number of CFC-supported projects at the end of 2004 was 178 with a financial volume of US$366 million’. Three hundred and sixty six m-i-l-l-i-o-n US dollars. Just think about that!

Season Greetings to all.

Sam Setter