DEVELOPMENT: Africa Centre Dismissals Challenged

  • by David Cronin (brussels)
  • Sunday, February 14, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

Seventeen of the 42 people working at the Centre for the Development of Enterprise (CDE) in Brussels were removed from their posts in December and told to leave its headquarters without delay. The dismissals, unreported until now, are being challenged by lawyers representing some of the staff concerned, who insist that they have not received an explanation for why they were let go.

However, the CDE's director Maboussou Thiam has stated that the dismissals were necessary to reform the centre, which distributes EU aid to small and medium-sized firms in the 78-country African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bloc.

Ambassadors representing the ACP governments considered the implications of the dismissals at a meeting Feb 11. A source who attended the meeting said that some ambassadors believed the reforms were 'fast and furious' and should have been introduced more gradually, although others had expressed their approval of the measures.

One of the officials dismissed said that his sacking had occurred in a manner that did not respect his rights as a trade union member. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that he had asked Thiam to engage in conciliation talks but this request was refused.

Thiam told IPS that he was not prepared to enter into dialogue with the people dismissed because the 17 posts had been cancelled as part of a restructuring exercise demanded by the CDE's governing board, which includes both EU and ACP representatives.

Before the reforms were introduced, he said, the salaries and other payments to the CDE staff gobbled up 65 percent of its 18 million euros (24.5 million dollars) annual budget. While he said that it was 'painful' for him to inform staff that they were being sacked, the decision on who should be made redundant was not made by him. Rather, it was based on the results of an evaluation of each CDE official undertaken by the consulting firm Hudson.

Thiam stated that he was under instructions from the CDE board to carry out the restructuring before the end of 2009. 'This was not an easy task but since they asked for it, I had to do it,' he said. He also said that all of the staff dismissed had been given severance payments ranging from 150,000 euros to 250,000 euros.

The CDE director since March last year, Thiam had previously worked for the World Bank in his native Senegal. An internal World Bank paper, dated July 2009, stated that a private sector promotion project for which he was responsible was 'poorly managed'. In July 2008, the bank decided to suspend its support for the project after financial irregularities were detected, including 'numerous' cases of unauthorised spending. This project had been allocated a 46 million dollar loan from the Washington-based institution.

Thiam said that the CDE's governing board had scrutinised his previous track record before he became the centre's director. The issues raised by the World Bank had been 'judged irrelevant' during that screening process, he added.

Thiam's term in the CDE officially expires at the end of this month but ACP ambassadors have agreed that he should remain until a replacement can be found. He was originally appointed on an interim basis. Under rules covering the centre's activities, the post of director is rotated between the ACP and the European sides. The EU is in charge of nominating the next director but has not yet decided who should have the job.

The CDE is no stranger to controversy. In June 2007, its former director Hamed Sow resigned to become a government minister in Mali. However, his time in Brussels was marred by conflict of interest accusations.

The EU's anti-fraud office, which is known by its French acronym OLAF, investigated the suspected misuse of a 3.7 million euros loan given by the European Investment Bank to Fitina, a Malian company that was establishing a factory to process cotton. Fitina was supposed to buy new equipment with the loan but allegedly used it to buy second-hand equipment at a considerable discount. At the time, Sow enjoyed a 20 percent shareholding in the company and reportedly charged it for his advice.

An OLAF spokeswoman said that a dossier relating to the CDE had been passed on to French judicial authorities. A judicial proceeding is being undertaken in France as a result, the spokeswoman said, declining to comment further.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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