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BHVI under investigation by ACNC, while serious issues uncovered at foundation

Disruption and unrest continue to engulf the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) and Foundation, following last year’s exposure of governance irregularities concerning a $1 million staff bonus and the subsequent resignation of the organisation’s chairman Professor Brian Layland.

Sources say that at a meeting in March staff were informed that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) is investigating BHVI in relation to the governance issues surrounding the payment of a $1 million bonus.

A director of BHVI confirmed to Insight that the ACNC is currently investigating the organisation with respect to the bonus payment issues reported by this publication, and that staff have been informed.

When contacted for comment, the ACNC stated that it does not comment on a specific charity’s circumstances, or speculate on any potential courses of action.

In addition to the ACNC investigation currently running, Insight can now reveal that the merger of BHVI Foundation and the Optometry Giving Sight (OGS) charity, as announced in January 2018 and expected to be completed on 1 March, never took place.

This matter is likely to be the subject of the BHVI Foundation forensic investigation, which is being conducted by international consultancy firm Control Risks, and is what led to the sudden dismissal of former BHVI Foundation CEO Ms Amanda Davis in January 2019.

Davis’ termination came after 23 years with the organisation; she was promoted from chief operating officer to CEO in July 2018 following the departure of Professor Kovin Naidoo.

"There was no media release about the decision to abandon the merge, at the time. Optometry Giving Sight sincerely apologises for any confusion that may have caused"
Leigh Cleave, OGS global director of optometry

Davis’ dismissal prompted the distribution of a 2,000-word anonymous letter, signed by “concerned staff of the Brien Holden Vision Institute Foundation”, that criticised the board, her removal and BHVI CEO Yvette Waddell, who assumed the role of BHVI Foundation CEO. The letter was also critical of the Foundation’s external legal counsel, Mr Tony Thomas.

Following the widely distributed letter, the BHVI Foundation’s board issued a statement on 21 February saying it regretted that staff felt it necessary to distribute the letter, and revealed that Control Risks had been commissioned to undertake a forensic investigation into the BHVI Foundation’s records.

The board’s statement went on to explain that Control Risks’ investigation had been running for “several months” and revealed “serious instances of maladministration” within the organisation: “Over the past several months an investigation has been carried out by Control Risks that has revealed serious instances of maladministration within [BHVI Foundation]. In the circumstances, the Board concluded that it was untenable for Amanda Davis to remain as CEO.”


Insight understands that Control Risks’ investigation into maladministration is ongoing.

The matter surrounding the failed merger between BHVI Foundation and OGS is particularly confusing.

In January 2018 the global board of OGS announced that on 1 March 2018 OGS Australia would merge with the BHVI Foundation, with OGS’ international branches following suit in due course. However, nearly one year later the merger has not been formally completed, without any explanation by the BHVI Foundation or OGS as to why.

Insight sought clarification from OGS global director of optometry Ms Leigh Cleave, who confirmed that the merger did not occur. According to Cleave, in November 2017 the OGS board reached an in principal decision to merge with the BHVI Foundation. In a joint meeting with the BHVI Foundation in January 2018, OGS “discussed expansion of the scope of Optometry Giving Sight fundraising through a merged organisation”.

However, Cleave said in March 2018 the OGS board advised against many of the suggested changes and instead argued for a “deepening” of OGS strategy rather than a “broader approach”.

“The Board expressed concerns for the impact that the loss of the Optometry Giving Sight brand might have on supporters. In the months that followed, after consideration of various operational and legal issues, a decision was made by management to preserve Optometry Giving Sight and not merge with the Foundation. The decision was ratified by the Foundation Board in October 2018,” Cleave said.

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This calls into question why the two boards did not resolve these issues before the merger was announced in January, and the setting of a specific date for it to become effective.

“Throughout 2018, Optometry Giving Sight maintained a separate identity in communications with supporters and continues to identify the [BHVI] Foundation as our major implementing partner. Since the decision to preserve Optometry Giving Sight, management has been working on a new strategic direction. The plan will be communicated once confirmed. There was no media release about the decision to abandon the merge, at the time. Optometry Giving Sight sincerely apologises for any confusion that may have caused,” Cleave said.

Unrest and upheaval

Staff unrest within the organisations appears to remain high – and increasingly fractious – with former chairman Layland also attacking the removal of Davis and demanding an explanation.

In a 400-word letter obtained by Insight, Layland attempted to rally staff to action and meet with the BHVI Foundation Board on 28 February to demand answers.

“I feel I am competent and that it is appropriate that I comment on the recent events which appear to have resulted from the dismissal of Amanda." Layland wrote.

However, Insight understands that this meeting did not take place.

Layland resigned as chairman and director of the BHVI in October 2018 following confusion regarding the payment of a $1 million bonus to a staff member. In an interview with this publication Layland denied several times that the bonus was $1 million, however his statements were later proven to be factually incorrect, prompting his resignation.


More reading:

Million-dollar bonus at Brien Holden sparks board governance concerns     - 07/09/2018
Revelation: Brien Holden chairman wrong     - 19/09/2018
BHVI chairman wrong about million-dollar bonus, more governance concerns emerge     - 03/10/2018
Brien Holden Institute chairman resigns     - 07/10/2018
Brien Holden Institute "missing" $1 million questioned     - 31/10/2018
BHVI Foundation removes CEO amid maladministration investigation     - 22/02/2019
BHVI under investigation by ACNC, while serious issues uncovered at foundation     - 05/04/2019
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