29 April 2018 | The group of donors, headquartered in the Williams Lake (British Columbia) Adventist Church, that has accused the denomination’s South East Andhra Conference of mismanagement of funds for a million-dollar conference center, has made public their letter to Pastor Ezras Lakra, president of the Southern Asia Division of the General Conference.
The letter, written by group spokesperson Rita Corbett, details a 21-month effort to get to the bottom of persistent rumors of an illegal land purchase, builder’s receipts with altered amounts, and large amounts of donors’ money unaccounted for.
An interview with the primary builder, a Hindu man, revealed that he’d suspected fraud when he’d been asked to sign completion certificates with the amounts not filled in. The interview confirmed that what he had billed the conference was less than what the conference billed the Hope Center donors.
The Hope Center project, conceived in 2006, was begun with a contract, as required by Canadian Revenue, that offered protective conditions for the project. The conference has never produced the requested, agreed-to documents, or allowed the specified audit. Instead, says the letter, donors have been met with persistent stonewalling and excuses from conference, union and division leaders. The donors’ group has since discontinued supporting the project, and refuses all further donations, until documentation and audits are completed.
When the issue was communicated in writing to General Conference President Ted Wilson, Corbett says, a reply was received from Magdiel Perez-Schultz, an assistant to the president on behalf of the GC President’s office, simply stating this was a matter to be left with the Southern Asia Division.
According to church policy, Divisions are only offices of the General Conference, not separate entities.
Efforts to work with Lakra have been unsuccessful.
Corbett says that some donors are now pursuing legal opinions from lawyers in India, Canada and the United States. “I would prefer that donors didn’t go to law,” says Corbett. “But I understand how frustrated some of our donors have become with the impossibility of getting accountability from anyone. At this point, it seems nothing short of a forensic audit could satisfactorily clear this up.”
Corbett says that the donors’ going public with the problem has put them in contact with donors to other projects in India who have had similar complaints, as well as frustrated Indian church members and denominational employees who are aware of financial irregularities in church leadership. “Our desire remains for Seventh-day Adventist evangelistic outreach to continue in India,” says Corbett. “But we cannot do it if leaders are being dishonest.” She encourages others who have faced such problems to write to General Conference leaders, asking them to take a stronger hand in ensuring financial accountability in India.