The Rainforest Foundation of Norway (RFN) has informed AIDESEP, the Association of Indigenous Organisations of the Peruvian Rainforest, of its decision to cease funding following an audit report that identified systematic misuse of funds destined for projects from 2018 to mid-2019. AIDESEP has rejected this affirmation.

In a letter made public 18 October, RFN implicated the president, treasurer, administrator and accountant in receiving or condoning advances on salary and expenses that were either not formally approved or not supported by timely receipts. Noting that this was not the first time that AIDESEP had been involved in the misuse of funds, RFN’s international director regretted the impact of the decision on the nine regional bases of the association, indicating, however, that they and other Amazonian indigenous organisations would continue to be eligible for support.

The initial reaction from AIDESEP’s leadership was to condemn the accusation as an “ill-intentioned effort to generate instability in the Peruvian indigenous movement”, arguing that RFN had not taken into account the fact that the leadership had volunteered all the information upon which the audit report was based.

However, in a national meeting that included the leaders of the regional bases on 7 November, there were calls for those involved to resign. Action was deferred on the grounds that a culture of accountability was non-existent within the organisation. Instead, leadership elections, due in December 2020, have been brought forward to next July.

The case highlights the long-standing contention, of both indigenous leaders and some of their supporters, that indigenous organisations have their own governance mechanisms and that the employment of external standards of accountability is an unwarranted imposition.

Over the years the persistence of this attitude has lost the movement much support, both from their own membership as well as from potential donors and allies, and this latest dispute with Rainforest Foundation does not serve their cause any better unless, that is, it leads to a watershed change in the professional development of indigenous organisations.

This very public exposure presents AIDESEP and its nine regional organisations with an opportunity to set clear markers between self-governance in policy, which is their undisputed right, and their duty of accountability to members and donors for competent and responsible management of the resources.