Worthy cause in tatters

Twenty years ago, a group of friends decided to set up the Greek Center for the Care of Wild Animals (EKPAZ) on the island of Aegina, where thousands of injured birds and other wild animals have been treated and, where possible, returned to their natural habitat. From its beginning as an amateur operation, EKPAZ grew into a non-governmental, non-profit organization, but the original group of friends disbanded and, over the last year, the center has been the focus of unfortunate publicity. Meanwhile, the schism between members of the organization now appears to be unbridgeable. EKPAZ is also at risk of losing its building in Metochi, originally granted by the Piraeus Prefecture to be used for a period that ends in November. However, Prefect Yiannis Michas has received complaints about the management of the center which he has forwarded to the appropriate judicial authority. If these problems are not resolved, Michas told Kathimerini, the contract could be rescinded earlier than November. A year ago, a group of employees resigned and sued the management for failing to pay their wages. The case is due to be heard in September. Another seven employees, working without social security coverage, lodged a complaint with the Social Security Foundation (IKA). «I was hired as a driver through a Manpower Organization (OAED) program,» said Nikitas Gavalas. «When the program ended, my wage payments stopped. I was employed as a driver for the center’s branch in Kallithea (Athens). I and two others then worked for about a year and a half without pay. I alone am owed about 17,000 euros,» he said. EKPAZ’s administrator Philippos Dragoumis claims that those who lodged the suit were volunteers whose expenses were paid upon the production of receipts. «Some were even claiming unemployment benefits. Moreover, those who didn’t want to adjust to the changes had already left, but their behavior affected our relations with people and organizations from abroad, including foreign volunteers and visitors, and hindered the work being done by veterinary surgeons and biologists,» Dragoumis claimed. As for the center’s finances, there have been claims of unjustified expenses in the summer of 2003, when the center accumulated bills for goods worth 5,513 euros, including luxury food items, from a local supermarket. At one point the center owed the supermarket 22,000 euros, yet staff members were not being paid. «Where do you think our volunteers were supposed to shop for necessities, if not the supermarket?» was Dragoumis’s reply. Costas Ioannou, one of nine members of staff to resign from the center, also claimed insufficient audits were being carried out. «Everyone had free access to the till, whether it was small contributions from visitors or major subsidies,» he charged. Several of EKPAZ’s older members questioned why staff were not paid when the center received subsidies of 200,000 euros in cash in 2003 and 50,000 euros in kind. Maria Ganoti, one of EKPAZ’s founding members, asked why no balance sheets were issued between 1999 and 2003. «Until last January, the organization’s accounts were in a terrible state, and the administrators were trying to put them into some kind of order. I don’t know if they managed to do so,» she said. When Dragoumis called for a general assembly in November 2004, the first item on the agenda was the financial statements for the year 1999 to 2003. Even more serious is Ganoti’s claim that major subsidies secured in 2003 of almost 130,000 euros do not appear in the center’s accounts. Ganoti said she had received letters from Aegina warning her to refrain from any involvement in the center. One of the letters, from Dragoumis and another administrator, Yiannis Poulopoulos, accused Ganoti of blackmailing EKPAZ with threats of legal action to serve her own «selfish purposes.» In the same letter, they demanded she removed her dogs from the Aegina center as they were «an extra burden on staff and volunteers.» «All those making accusations of mismanagement cannot prove anything,» said Dragoumis, who said Ganoti had an «authoritarian nature» that inevitably led to conflict. Meanwhile, Ganoti and her associates have submitted a proposal to the Piraeus Prefecture for a new group titled «Association for the Protection and Care of Wildlife.»

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