The man demanding a forensic audit of the Santa Cruz New Testament Church of God has said that the absence of proper accounting for tithes collected from church members is one of his main grouses.
George Robertson, who described himself as one of the founding members of the Santa Cruz congregation which dates back 45 years, told the Jamaica Observer that he will not relent from his campaign to have an audit done.
According to Robertson, he and others who support his stance would be prepared to pay for the audit.
“We the disgruntled members will finance an independent forensic audit. The church has been established over 40-odd years, and we have never had, whether forensic nor regular audit done there, never, not once, and is time,” he said.
“We (should not) let the younger generation come to inherit (this),” he said.
He is also urging the head of the national church, Bishop Wellesley Blair, to withdraw remarks about his (Robertson’s) motives for the campaign. In fact, Robertson feels so strongly about Blair’s allegations in a recent Observer interview he said that he has sought advice from his lawyer regarding his “legal options”.
Blair, in that interview refused to entertain Robertson’s demand for a forensic audit.
The Observer of Monday, December 8, reported Robertson’s demand for a forensic audit and his complaints of financial irregularities as well as Blair’s rejection of the demand and accompanying assertions. In the December 8 article, Robertson alleged specifically that more than $500,000 belonging to the Santa Cruz church was unaccounted for between March 2012 and August 2012.
To underline his objection to the way in which his church conducts its financial business, Robertson said that since the start of 2014, he has stopped making financial contributions to the church.
“I have withdrawn all my financial obligations, haven’t given the church any financial support since this year, no tithes, no offerings,” he said.
At the core of his objections is the way in which he said that members’ tithes are collected with only a single accounting officer “tallying” tithes, with no checks and balances.
“We are forced to accept the figures reflected as correct. This practice is a breach of the church’s own guideline,” states a document with a list of complaints which Robertson said was compiled with the help of his lawyer.
Robertson told the Sunday Observer of anecdotal evidence of at least one member speaking of his discovery that the amount he submitted as tithes to the church was not the amount recorded.
“The regulation is that you should have two or three persons that check the tithes,” he told the Sunday Observer.
Robertson presented the Sunday Observer with copies of documents which, he said, showed questionable financial accounting. He alleged an irregular practice including the disbursement of loans without “knowledge or approval” of authorised church officials.
He also presented documents to show that he has been making such complaints since 1998. Back then, the current accounting officer was also a leading target of his complaints. In a letter dated May 20, 1998, Robertson served notice to the church that he would “appeal the decision to suspend my service as an officer to the Church … simply because I uncovered irregularities within the Pastor’s Council which, to date, have not been adequately dealt with. This commendable service has been rewarded with a dismissal”.
Robertson claimed that at the time his appeal did lead to some degree of remedial action.
In the latest scenario, Robertson expressed extreme disappointment with the failure of Blair to properly hear his side of the story. He argued that Blair has rushed to judgement without all the facts.
Robertson, who is a building contractor, argued that at the very least, Blair should give him a hearing because of his service and assistance to the church and its officers.
“Why not come call me into your (Blair’s) office, tell me to bring what I have?” he asked.
“Come on. If I serve the church for 40-odd years, the first wood cut out there, the first tent put out there, I am involved in it. And I have sent lots of people to Bible school and to ministry,” he said.
Blair had told the Sunday Observer of a letter he had sent to Robertson, informing him of his removal from “the church’s account”, and “all other engagements that you have in the Santa Cruz church”.
But according to Robertson, he never received that letter and he is questioning whether removal of his name from the church’s bank accounts was done legally.
“I never got that letter,” Robertson said. “He (Blair) needs to produce it and tell me how he sent it.”
According to Robertson, he had only spoken to Blair twice — once was in Santa Cruz in late 2013 when he handed over his letter urging an audit of the Santa Cruz church. That letter was signed by him as a member (then) of the officer’s board in Santa Cruz. One other member of that board supported him by affixing his signature.
Intriguingly, Robertson said that at the time Blair had promised an islandwide audit following rumours of large sums, “millions of dollars”, going missing at the headquarters.
“He (Blair) told me when I hand him my letter, that… he will be doing a forensic audit at headquarters and had the intention at all the churches across Jamaica and that was October of last year. Bishop Blair came to Santa Cruz and that’s (one) of only two times I had ever spoken to that gentleman. He said he was going to all the churches. I hand him the letter and up to this date I have never gotten any correspondence from him, except hearing the (local) minister preaching,” he said.
Robertson said that he had gathered an idea of the church’s position on his complaints through veiled messages conveyed in sermons by local pastor, Alfred Morris.