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Bike race funding held to account

The annual bike race and ride around the temples
The annual bike race and ride around the temples has become increasingly popular in the last couple of years. Photograph supplied

The annual Angkor Wat Bike Race and Ride is one of the fund-raising highlights on the Siem Reap calendar. But there are increasing calls for financial transparency.

The seventh annual Angkor Wat Bike Race and Ride kicks off on December 1, and its recent spurt in popularity and fundraising seems set to continue.

The big bike day out is organised by NGO Village Focus International and according to a statement from its executive director Rick Reece, in the first four years of its life, from 2006 to 2009,  the race generated gross income averaging $35,000 annually.

But in the past two years there has been a surge in income: gross income for 2010 was $83,348, and last year gross income almost hit $90,000, coming in at $89,855.

In the first four years, funds paid to beneficiary organisations averaged $17,750 annually.

Funding payments in 2010 amounted to $34,155, and last year that figure dropped to $30,985.

Village Focus International states on its website: “Over the past six years, The Angkor Wat Bike Race & Ride has fund-raised over US$150,000 net proceeds, used to support children in Cambodia.”

But while on the surface all seems hunky dory, behind the scenes there are increasing calls for transparency in regards to expenditure and the dispersal of funds raised over the last six years.

A blog has been set up regarding “requests to see accounting from the Angkor Wat bike races…as a result of multiple people with past interactions with Village Focus International expressing concerns, as well as some who are simply concerned parties.”

It’s also been pointed out that in VFI’s ‘home country’, the US, it has been stripped of its charitable deduction status by the IRS.

GuideStar Charity Check states, “This organization's exempt status was automatically revoked by the IRS for failure to file [forms] for 3 consecutive years. Further investigation and due diligence are warranted.”

Siem Reap Insider emailed VFI’s Laos-based executive director, Rick Reece about his views regarding the allegations,  and requesting financial details.

This resulted in a long phone call from Mr Reece in Laos who countered that there have been personality clashes between himself and others making some of the allegations. He agreed that VFI’s tax exempt status in the US had been revoked because he “messed up” paperwork. He also expressed reluctance to “share” or disclose details of the accounts for the last six years, due to privacy and confidentiality.

But he added he would consider whether he would “share” some of this material with Insider in an attempt to resolve disputes, on the proviso that Insider kept the full account details confidential.

A day later Reece emailed Insider with an attachment containing a, “Simple matrix of event income, expenditures, net proceeds, donations and beneficiaries, covering the period 2006-2011.”

Reece added, “We update this each year. I send you this in confidence and will discuss with our leaders in Cambodia about whether we will make this public on our site.”

In the email statement, Mr Reece also revised downwards the claim VFI makes on its website that it has “fund-raised over US150,000 net proceeds.

He said, “It is clear to me after checking our website that we need to do one thing right away: change our ‘...more than $150,000...’ statement to ‘...almost $140,000...’.

“We were including the amounts invested for subsequent years (2011 and 2012 – a total of $22,000) and that has been changed to a separate column bringing the total donations related to the event down from $157,000 to $135,000.

“ Since Terre Des Hommes - Netherlands is our event partner now they will double or triple the proceeds easily, so we can make the ‘more than $150,000...’ claim after the 2012 event.”

Mr Reece also gave a more detailed explanation regarding the revoking of VFI’s charitable status in the US.

He said, “Regarding our 501(c)(3) status, we did misfile our paperwork and failed to pay the proper (though nominal) fees and are working diligently with the IRS to correct our 'held' status. We are completely on top of this situation but it is, obviously, a concern at the top of my list.

“Please note that we are also a registered charity in Hong Kong and our filing and paperwork is completely up to date there…We are also legally registered in Cambodia as both Village Focus International and Village Focus Cambodia, and all paperwork is up to date.

“Finally, we are registered in Laos – where we started – as an INGO, where we have operated for the past 12 years. I am based in Laos as the only full time expatriate in a senior management position for VFI (we have no staff, no office, virtually no costs outside of Laos and Cambodia, which partly explains my screw-ups in IRS filing).

“We do have several short term local hired expats (working on the bike event in Cambodia and serving as technical advisors in Laos). Otherwise, our 70 or so staff members are either Cambodian or Lao.”

Reece also disclosed a rudimentary financial statement in confidence to The Insider.

Due to the confidentiality, the figures can’t be revealed in detail but suffice to say the “simple matrix of event income, expenditures, net proceeds, donations and beneficiaries,” is exactly that – simple.

The amount of total expenses each year is given, but there is no breakdown of expenses, and some explanations are confusing and difficult to understand.

But the list of beneficiaries is detailed and shows that many organisations have benefitted handsomely from the bike races.

It’s a pity that the obvious good generated by the bike races has become marred in what seems essentially a case of muddled accounting rather than deliberate misappropriation, an overstatement of achievements, and perhaps a misguided overweening pursuit of privacy regarding public monies.

To quote Mr Reece, “What I am sure of is that there has been no misuse or misappropriation of funds. Net proceeds from the event supports our local beneficiaries, including charities selected by the half marathon committee, but the event does cost an enormous amount to put on.

“We are very clear in all of our promotions of the event that net proceeds go to supporting selected beneficiaries, which is a significant amount each year. Compared to the much larger event held the day after (the Half Marathon) we manage to donate a much larger relative amount to our beneficiaries.”

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