Murky Bosnian charity appeals for African wells raise concerns
23 Nov 2020

Nadzida Cano, who runs the Kids Corner Sarajevo kindergarten, says that according to the Islamic faith, securing water for someone is an act for which “a man will be rewarded after death”.

This is why she and her sister, aftMillions of euros have been raised through appeals in Bosnia and Herzegovina to build wells and mosques in Africa, but concerns persist about suspect fundraising methods and claims that photographs documenting some charity-funded wells were faked.er the death of their parents, wanted to build a well in a place that lacked water supplies.

“At the time we heard from several people that you could build a well in Africa. We asked around and learned about some people’s positive experiences, so two or three months after making the payment, we could see photos on Facebook, depicting a well [in Nigeria] named after our parents,” Cano said.

Later she raised 1,000 euros for two more wells in Nigeria together with the parents of the children at the kindergarten in Sarajevo.

“I paid the money for the first kids’ well, as well as the well which I and my sister had built for our parents earlier, through a giro transfer to Mr Aldin Kajmakovic. I have the payment slip. I forwarded the money for the second well through a friend of his,” she explained.

According to posts on Kajmakovic’s Facebook page, he has helped build around 2,300 wells in Africa in the period from October 2016 to March 2020. He claimed that the number of wells built was actually around 2,500, but BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina determined that certain posts had been repeated.

According to prices published on his Facebook page and the number of pictures of wells, over the past three-and-a-half years, Kajmakovic has raised at least four million Bosnian marks (over two million euros) for the construction of wells.

But he told BIRN that he does not keep a particularly detailed record apart from the one on his Facebook page, because he and the group of people involved in the project – Haris Hecimovic, Adla Abazovic and Anel Okic, a doctor from Zenica, are “an informal group”.

During a later conversation, Kajmakovic said that he had not published the photos of all the wells on Facebook because donors did not want them to be published, but that he kept an archive of them all.

The way that records are kept and money raised for the well-building project by Kajmakovic and his partners is different from methods used by other humanitarian organisations.

By analysing the posts with photos and data on the wells that have been built, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina determined that photographs of two wells have been altered to depict the same well with a changed signboard. This was confirmed by an international expert in digital forensics.

The first post, published on September 3, 2019, showed a well in Togo in West Africa named ‘Mujic Ilijas Anes G. Sepak’ after the donors who provided the money to build it. An identical post from the same location published on September 4 showed a well with the donors’ names ‘Hadzi Serif and Hadzi Ziba’.

In Ivory Coast, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina found two examples of photos of pictures of the same wells with signboards Photoshopped to make them appear different, so instead of two wells, it appeared that four wells had been built.

Kajmakovic denies having manipulated the photos of wells published on his Facebook page. He explained that he was tasked with publishing those photos, and that it was his project partner Hecimovic who communicated with people in Africa because he does not speak Arabic.

“They would send photos to Haris, Haris then sent those photos to me, and I then sorted and published them. If there are any errors, that’s the thing with the photos we received. So really this is the first time I’ve heard about it; if it is really true, I am surprised,” Kajmakovic said.

Hecimovic did not want to talk about the building of the wells in Africa.

Donations sent to private bank accounts

According to posts on Kajmakovic’s Facebook page, most of the wells have been built in Nigeria – more than 600 – followed by Gambia with more than 500 wells and Ivory Coast with more than 400.

On the basis of a 2018 post on Facebook, the wells cost 800 euros each in Gambia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana and Togo, and 1,000 euros each in Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

“Initially, the price of the wells we built in Ghana, the first couple of wells without tanks, without additional tanks, was between 800 and 900 euros depending on the country. As for the wells we built later, mostly in Nigeria, because Nigeria was the most organised country for us in terms of wells, and then these other countries, we settled on a uniform price of 1,000 euros. That is the standard price,” Kajmakovic said.

Based on those prices, over four million Bosnian marks (more than two million euros) have been raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina for Africa in three-and-a- half years. Out of that amount, around a million was for wells in Nigeria.

Kajmakovic said that it is not true that people gave him money in cash.

“Ninety or 95 per cent went through the account. However, as the project expanded, we could no longer receive money through the account, because at some stage, particularly during the Ramadan when people donated the most, the amount exceeded the normal amount that could be deposited to an individual account in one month,” Kajmakovic said.

He said that “avoiding taxes” was not the reason for this.

A mountaineering association called Azimuth 135 said it donated money for a well in cash. Several people have confirmed to BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina that they donated cash to build wells in Africa through Kajmakovic, but they wanted to remain anonymous.

In a later conversation with BIRN, Kajmakovic said that “towards the end of the project, people brought [money] in the way most suitable for them”. He added that donors who were in Zenica gave him the money.

He did not answer the question whose account people used to deposit the donated money for the wells, only saying that he and his partners cooperated with several organisations in Africa, which he did not name.

Asked whether he sent the money to Africa, or if this was done by Hecimovic, he said he could not remember all the details. He said that the money was paid to associations in Africa, but he did not know which ones.

In several posts appealing for various types of donations, Adla Abazovic and Kajmakovic called on people to make payments to Kajmakovic’s private bank account.

On one occasion, Kajmakovic wrote that if people wanted to pay a certain amount of money to help build a well, but not for an entire well, they could send the money to the bank account of the Association of Citizens for the Affirmation of Human Ideas, AHI.

The AHI Association did not respond to BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s email, but Aida Jasarevic, who is listed as the administrator on the association’s Facebook page, responded that the association was just an intermediary that allowed its bank account to be used for this purpose.

According to the Financial Intelligence Agency in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Federation entity, the AHI Association had an annual income of around 69,000 Bosnian marks (around 35,000 euros) in 2017 and 103,000 Bosnian marks (around 53,000 euros) in 2018, while the 2019 income was 299,640 Bosnian marks (over 153,000 euros).

Judging by the number of wells that are claimed it have been built, the figures are much lower from the amount of money apparently raised by Kajmakovic’s group, who also raised funds to build mosques in Africa as well as wells.

Officially-registered humanitarian associations in Bosnia and Herzegovina normally take in donations via their bank accounts. Kajmakovic and his partners could not do work in this way because they did not have a registered association.

Three economics experts told BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina that, in any humanitarian campaign involving fundraising, there must be a registered association involved, as well as receipts or payment orders.

Economics expert Abaz Esad said that it is not legal to make payments for humanitarian purposes to private accounts. Expert Edina Hebibija agreed that making such payments to private accounts is illegal, adding that the work of such associations must be transparent and records of the money raised must be kept.

“It often happens that they come to people’s homes, saying they are collecting humanitarian funds. That is not legal. They should not be doing that,” Hebibija said.

“In my opinion, it would be more legal if it happened through an association,” expert Asima Pracic said.

Numerous humanitarian organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and around the world are involved in building wells in Africa. Elvir Karalic of Pomozi.ba, the best-known humanitarian organisation in the country, said that it insists on payments through banks and, even when cash is received, it is recorded and deposited in the association’s bank account.

The Solidarnost association also insists on bank payments. Over the course of seven years, it has built 113 wells through the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation.

The Foundation said that from 2016 to 2019, the price of wells has been 3,500 euros, adding that the construction of one well takes between six and 12 months.

However, Kajmakovic and his partners claim to have built 2,500 wells in fewer than four years – which would mean this informal group of people with no previous experience in the construction of wells have built more than 50 wells a month.

By Dzana Brkanic, Balkan Insight, 20 November 2020

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