Investigation into charity run by ex-Hillsong CEO Leigh Coleman, Many Rivers Microfinance
August 18, 2011
A CHRISTIAN charity which has so far spent more than $1.3 million to generate just $330,000 in loans for Indigenous Australians is being investigated.
Many Rivers Microfinance is run by a former Hillsong executive who has already come under parliamentary scrutiny over an earlier loans program that delivered only a trickle of funds to the Indigenous community.
refused to reveal its spending and donation income for the past financial year.
In 2006 Leigh Coleman’s operation at Hillsong Emerge – the evangelical group’s former benevolent arm - had its funding discontinued after revelations the vast majority of taxpayer dollars went to employing staff.
Mr Coleman’s current program at Many Rivers has since successfully raised millions of dollars from the Federal Government and some of the country’s biggest companies including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Westpac.
Life in charity: Who is Leigh Coleman?
But since its inception in 2007 to the end of the 2010 financial year the latest available records show it has delivered just 74 microenterprise loans worth a total of $330,000.
While declining to provide evidence as to how the reported $1.375 million had been spent delivering them, the charity said that - like the discontinued Hillsong pilot - the bulk had gone on staff salaries and training.
A presentation delivered by Many Rivers to potential donors, and obtained by news.com.au, claimed a single field officer in a “developing regional community” would cost the charity $250,000 to support per year.
Mr Coleman, who is chief executive officer, a director and also a company member of Many Rivers, declined requests to be interviewed.
But spokesman Paul Andrews said the low output of its loans was to be expected and was representative of the difficult nature of the work it was doing with Indigenous communities.
“Helping disadvantaged people move away from welfare dependency and social exclusion towards financial freedom for themselves and their families is a complex task that can take a considerable length of time,” Mr Andrews said.
prompted after inquiries
A spokesman for the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing said its investigation would look at the charity’s finances, prompted after inquiries from news.com.au.
“An audit involves a general review of fundraising activities to ensure compliance with the charitable fundraising legislation including accountability and record keeping and general governance requirements,” OLGR spokesman Mark Nolan said.
Since 2010, Many Rivers has obtained an additional $1 million from the Federal Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, $522,000 from the Federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace relations and more from the West Australian Government.
Westpac Bank has provided $1 million over five years as well as all loan capital since mid-2010. Other private donors include Transfield, Fortescue Metals Group, Chevron, Woodside Petroleum and Exxon Mobil as well as law firms Blake Dawson and Minter Ellison.
The charity told news.com.au that as at April 30 this year, of the 62 active loans it had on its books, 28 had a 50 per cent bad debt provision against the current loan balance outstanding.
recorded bad debts
It also recorded bad debts for 2009-2010 as $79,145 - or 23.9 per cent of the $330,000 in loans it claimed to have made at the time.
The charity declined to provide any evidence to support its claims of high costs. It also refused to reveal its spending and donation income for the past financial year.
In contrast, a small business loans program run by the National Australia Bank based on operating costs of 72 cents per dollar lent would be able to offer the same amount of micro-enterprise funding at a total estimated cost of just $237,000.
While the charity describes itself as “motivated by Christian principles and values” and lists Mission Australia as one of its five company members, it makes no mention of any of Mr Coleman’s past connection to Hillsong.
In 2006 it was reported the Federal Government admitted he received $80,000 of federal indigenous development funds to top up his salary, despite having only indirect involvement in projects run by Hillsong Emerge. Mr Coleman declined to comment.
As CEO of Many Rivers, Mr Coleman has been paid an undisclosed amount for his services on a contract basis since the charity’s creation as a legal entity in 2007 through his private firm Looking Glass Holdings, which he runs with his wife Vera.
never put out to tender
These services were never put out to tender. Vera Coleman was listed as a member of the company in the 2007-2008 financial statements.
The charity says Mr Coleman takes no part in board discussions or decisions involving his pay and so there is no conflict of interest with his other role as a director of Many Rivers and as a member of the company.
“MRM’s Board considered this approach to be more efficient and flexible given the growth path of the organisation and uncertainty as to income levels during its start-up phase,” spokesman Paul Andrews said.
Vera Coleman is also a former Hillsong Pastor and, according to her CV on the Looking Glass Trust website, worked for Hillsong Emerge between 1996 and 2007 and helped initiate the pilot for the Redfern component of Hillsong’s microfinance program which her husband oversaw until it had funding cancelled.
She also helped develop the controversial “Shine” program for young women which was criticised for teaching young women self esteem through learning how to apply make-up, style their hair and walk with books balanced on their heads.
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