24 March 2012

Human rights cannot be advocated by crooks

[Many human rights organizations expressed concern about ‘vilifying’ human rights activists in Sri Lanka such as Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.  None of these bleeding-heart crusaders were willing to entertain the thought that some of these activists were crooks or at least ready and willing to bend the rules when it came to money matters.  The point was made in Geneva that no one need vilify the likes of Saravanamuttu because he does a good job of it himself.  It was pointed out that Saravanamuttu has hardly rebutted his critics and has shown a remarkable penchant for dodging query.  The following two articles were written almost a year ago.  I dug them up to refresh memories]

 Is an election a ‘village tank’ to monitors and donors? 

There’s an old joke about NGO operations in Sri Lanka.  NGOs are said to send identical project proposals to several donor agencies.  For example, money would be solicited to rehabilitate a village tank (weva).  If more than one donor agrees to support the project, the particular NGO would not rehabilitate more than a single weva but would submit the identical final project report to each donor.  Some NGOs, the joke goes, would ‘rob’ the work of another NGO, claiming that the weva that NGO 2 rehabilitated was in fact the one mentioned in the proposal and referred to in the relevant report(s). 

That’s an old joke. Decades old.  Donors have since, we are told, tightened monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Moreover, NGOs competing for the same funds are ever watchful and more than willing to rat on fellow-racketeers.  The state got into the act a little while later. So did individuals and groups who were suspicious of NGOs, especially those outfits that bent over backwards to promote the division of the nation, destabilization of the country and whitewash terrorists and give them legitimacy of one kind or another.  Tough.

This is after all the Age of Communication.  It is not that donors are unaware of the existence of other donors. Typically, also, the donor community, especially countries that have a diplomatic presence in the particular country, run into one another in various forums and indeed their top officials deal with one another on first-name basis.  In general they are aware of who is doing what and where.  ‘Who’ meaning the donors as well as the recipients of their largesse. 

This is why it is strange that the Centre for Policy Alternatives could apply for and obtain a staggering Rs. 58 million to ‘monitor’ the Presidential and Parliamentary elections held in 2010.  The breakdown is as follows:  Rs. 13 million and Rs. 20 million for the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections respectively from the Netherlands, Rs. 9.9 million from the USA (both elections), Rs. 22 million from the Federal Republic of Germany (Presidential Election) and Rs. 3 million from the United Kingdom (Presidential Election, covering just the Eastern Province). 

The monies had been obtained by the CPA on behalf of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV).  The CMEV, according to its website, had been ‘formed in 1997 by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Coalition Against Political Violence as an independent and non-partisan organisation to monitor the incidence of election related violence’ and is currently ‘made up of CPA, FMM and INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre’. 

The FMM has a long history of engaging in fraudulent activities and its one time ‘convenor’, Sunanda Deshapriya, who also worked for the CPA (the incestuous nature of these outfits is well known) was asked to resign after being caught fudging accounts and pocketing bucks.   INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre has not updated its website since August 11, 2009 and that’s surprising for an outfit devoted to ‘documentation’ in this day and age.  Sunila Abeysekera, another NGO fellow-traveller of the likes of Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (CPA) and Jehan Perera (National Peace Council), is said to have been a co-founder of ‘INFORM’.  The entire lot engages in a lot of mutual back-scratching and rewarding one another (yes, incestuous is the word).  Anyway, the bottom like is that for all intents and purposes, CMEV is the CPA. 

We don’t know as yet if this Rs. 58 million is a part of the Rs. 272.31 million that the CPA is reported to have received from various donors over the past three years. We don’t know if other fraternal and similarly gift-exchanging organizations such as the NPC, PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections) and Rights Now (convened by Sudarshana Gunawardena who is also ‘Convenor’ of the ‘Joint Movement for Democracy’ and who recently praised Saravanamuttu when he received a ‘Citizens’ Peace Prize’ awarded by Jehan Perera’s NPC), received money for monitoring activities pertaining to the said two elections from these same funding sources.  We do know that PAFFREL has come under an accountability cloud after its long serving boss, Kingsley Rodrigo passed away recently. 

We don’t know whether the tax payers of the Netherlands, USA, UK and Germany are aware that their governments have been pumping money into organizations with dubious track records including surreptitious and sometimes open support of terrorist organizations.  We do know that Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu has close associations with certain political parties and has even shared stage and petition-space with politicians and parties, a fact which these funders cannot be unaware of and which moreover compromise the ability of the CPA/CMEV to exercise neutrality in election monitoring activities. 

We do not know if each donor mentioned above were aware that the CPA/CMEV were being funded for the same project by the other three.  We do not know the details of the budgets submitted by the CPA/CMEV to each of these donors and we hope that Saravanamuttu gets his ‘under construction’ website running soon and, in the interest of his favourite buzz-terms, transparency and accountability, lays it all out for the benefit of the public he seems to love so much. What we do know is details of the budget submitted to the Secretary for State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs represented by Mark Gooding, Deputy High Commissioner, British High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka. 

We don’t know if CMEV rented out a special monitoring office during the two elections or used the CPA office down Ernest De Silva Mawatha for the purpose, but the budget indicates that Rs 1.12 million has been allocated for rent. This is for monitoring activities in the Eastern Province.  The project duration is from December 15, 2009 to January 31, 2010.  That’s 48 days or more than Rs. 23,000 per day!  That’s just a single line-item of the budget.  I don’t have to get into the details.  Saravanamuttu who signed the agreement on behalf of CPA would, I am sure, give us the beef.  Rohan Edirisinghe who signed the agreement with the Netherlands Embassy and L.M. Cuelenaere (Ambassador) who signed on behalf of the Embassy would similarly, in the interest of transparency and accountability (to the people of Sri Lanka and the tax payers of the Netherlands), reveal details of the budget submitted by the CPA/CMEV. 

Saravanamuttu also signed on behalf of the CPA the agreement with the U.S. Department of State (Jeffrey Anderson was the other signatory).  He also signed the agreement with Germany, represented by the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jens Ploetner.  These gentlemen, given their long-standing and dedicated service to the cause of democracy, accountability and transparency, reveal all shortly, I am sure.   They will tell us how many people were required for the overall monitoring exercise and reveal their names too for they know only too well how NGOs cook up names and numbers.  In the interest of decency and civilization and since all this is about the wellbeing of democracy and the citizenry of Sri Lanka, leave no stone unturned so that we know that things are all above board. 

The CMEV, according to their website, has been monitoring the recently held local government elections.  There’s no record of how much money they got, from whom and for what. They’ve issued statements so one assumes that they did some work on the ground.  If they did monitor and did so without bucks, then one cannot help wondering why Saravanamuttu, Edirisinghe and others needed so much dough to monitor the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in 2010.  Were they marketing and selling the same ‘weva’, one wonders.  More disturbingly, one wonders if the donors were ‘in the know’. 

[March 22, 2011]

On making valid points and fudging critical issues

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, in what he purports to be a response to critical reports about the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) of which he is the Executive Director and to what he thinks are ‘personal attacks’, has made some very valid and thought-provoking observations (see ‘Hack-attack,’ in the Daily Mirror of April 7, 2011).  He has not mentioned what the ‘personal attacks’ are or who has made them. Neither has he mentioned what these ‘critical reports’ are about or who the critics are. That’s interesting and pertinent. 

I did comment on Saravanamuttu and the CPA at length in an article titled ‘Is an election a ‘village tank’ to monitors and donors?’ in the Daily Mirror of March 22, 2011, mentioning the enormous sums of money that the CPA has received from the governments of several countries in its capacity as the most visible member of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) and perhaps the only member with any real on-the-ground presence.  In that article I raised some questions about promise and delivery and about the logic of requiring scandalous amounts of money to pay for what seemed to be inexpensive services.  

I also asked why the CPA has not come clean on how much was spent on what and who got how much for what.  Elsewhere (for example in the Sunday Lakbima News of April 10, 2011) I noted the fact that the CMEV, for all the millions upon millions of rupees it has got its hands on over the last 12 years, failed to convince enough people about the importance of the work they do in order to build in sustainability to their projects.  I noted that the CMEV, perhaps for lack of funds, did next to nothing during the recently held local government elections. 

Saravanamuttu has, as I said, made some valid points.  He has said, for example, that the CPA had furnished all financial reports requested by the CID when MP Rajiva Wijesinha raised some questions in Parliament last year.  He has said that in any case the said information was already available with the Registrar of Companies in accordance with relevant audit requirements.  He has also raised the (valid) question, ‘why investigate right now?’ and added ‘why at all?’ He has asked whether the CPA (and other organizations) have been guilty of crime.  These are questions that the relevant authorities might want to respond to, although I don’t think that an investigative body has to launch action based on auspicious times or that investigations should be launched after it is established that a crime has been committed. 

In general, Saravanamuttu’s response does raise the question of selectivity, though.  In addition, the entire process and its political overtones do indicate that the regulatory apparatus is lacking in many ways and perhaps has in-built loopholes that make for inefficiency and hanky-panky.  As he has pointed out, the CPA and CMEV are legitimate bodies and recognized as such and moreover accorded respect by the Elections Commissioner.  If any mischief has been committed by the CPA/CMEV (and all indications are that they have) then the Elections Commissioner is automatically an accessory after the fact of mischief-making and other relevant wrongdoing.  C.A. Chandraprema has addressed the issue of flaws in the regulatory mechanisms in his article, ‘The legal basis of NGO impunity’ (The Island of April 7, 2011).

Saravanamuttu has not asked why the condition of accountability has not been raised with respect to other organizations, non-governmental, corporate and of course state agencies.  As far back as 2002, I insisted that for transparency and accountability to have any meaning in governance, there should be an Independent Audit Commission written into the now defunct 17th Amendment, flawed document though it was for reasons I have elaborated in many in the Sunday Island at that time and elsewhere subsequently. 

He claims he has been threatened, harassed, branded as traitor and that the public has been exhorted to spit on him.  He says he has been accused of being supportive of the LTTE and terrorism.  He has said there has been no substantiation of the allegation that he or the heads of the other organizations about whose finances questions have been raised and which share with the CPA ‘a common critique of the regime’ have indeed been supportive of the LTTE and therefore terrorism.  This is not true.  Whitewashing the LTTE, bending backwards to legitimate that organization and give it parity of status vis-à-vis the Government of Sri Lanka, turning a blind eye to fraternal organizations purportedly engaged in rehabilitation in LTTE-controlled areas when in fact they were knowingly providing money and material to the LTTE and doing the utmost to save the LTTE leadership during the last days of the conflict are only some of the ‘evidence’ of support, not to mention of course the fact that they were actively endorsing the LTTE’s preferences in all stages of all negotiations.  There’s nothing illegitimate in all this of course.  Feigning neutrality in the political arena and claiming to be apolitical, however, is rather disingenuous.  As for threat and harassment, again, this shows in the very least flaws in the overall security apparatus, even though it is true that those diametrically opposed to the views held by Saravanamuttu and his ilk have suffered the same kind of abuse but in greater magnitude with scars to show to boot.  

What I find strange about Saravanamuttu’s response is that thinks passing the buck to the Registrar of Companies is adequate answer to questions about financial matters.  This is strange because he claims often and is recognized by his donors and others who frequently quote him as representative of civil society.  This ought to make him answerable to the general public and moreover, given known antipathies, should not make him see state as organ of civil society in all things transparent and accountable.  Whether or not the mechanisms of the state are flawed, whether or not state agencies are engaged in a selective and unwarranted investigation of his organization, Saravanamuttu, knowing very well the problems pertaining to information flow between state and public, ought to have (but of course not required to) come clean about how much, from whom, for what and to whom. 

He says foreign donors are aware of what the organizations monitoring elections do and that the organizations report to these funders.  That multiple funders appear to have given money to the CMEV for the same project, that relevant amounts seem highly exorbitant and that the monitoring outfits appear to have axed sustainability in order to milk and re-milk a set of generous donor cows doesn’t give his boast much meat, especially since the other organizations he mentioned, PAFFREL and CAFFE (one assumes) would have also obtained similar quantities of dollar-milk from these very same dairy.  He has not explained why the CMEV required so much money and from so many donors.  He has not explained why the CMEV spent Rs. 1.12 million to rent a headquarters to monitor activities in the Eastern Province over a period of 48 days, for example.

Saravanamuttu says that CMEV’s audited accounts are electronically available on the CPA’s and CMEV’s websites.  CPA’s website is, for the record, ‘under construction’ and does not give all the annual reports and none since 2009.  The CMEV’s accounts are hidden in the middle of a large pdf document in literally very small print. I am not claiming that the relevant auditors have been negligent or mischievous.  Audit reports are essentially summaries.  The onus on Saravanamuttu, who talks of transparency and accountability, is to give the details that don’t go into these reports. 

Instead of all this, Saravanamuttu chooses to point fingers at those who have criticized the CPA/CMEV, demanding that they reveal who gave them the information.  I have the photocopies of agreements that the CPA has signed with several donors.  Suffice to say I have friends in government as well as the cartel that calls itself ‘civil society organizations’. Saravanamuttu knows he has more enemies within that without, given competition for the same funds from the same donors. 

What is relevant moreover is whether the claims made are accurate or not.  He has not denied.  Nor has he explained, in the public interest that he professes to care so much about, how much was received, for what exactly and into whose bank accounts the money went.

He asks the valid question, ‘Are these individuals (those who have criticized and raised questions regarding the CPA/CMEV and others) acting alone or are they acting on instruction?’ I can’t speak for others, but I am hardly acting on ‘instruction’ for I owe no one any favours, except those I love and the tax payers who paid for my education.   Whether or not the state has got its act together, these are questions that need to be asked, especially considering the holier-than-thou nature of rhetoric spouted by the likes of Saravanamuttu about transparency and accountability. This is not about bucks. This is about big bucks.  It is about coming clean. Or closing shop. The ball is in Saravanamuttu’s court, not as far as the state is concerned, but insofar as ‘civil society’ is implicated. 

[April 12, 2011, Daily Mirror]




And the slothful must whine (for a living)


Jehan Perera of the National (sic) Peace Council (NPC) has confessed that he is a mudalali, i.e. someone who runs a company.  He can no longer call his dollar-guzzling outfit an NGO, for that would make Cargills Food City a non-governmental organization and the petti-kade mudalali (a trader selling betel, Hacks toffees and kola-kenda at a wayside kiosk) a ‘political analyst’, ‘rights activist’ or whatever else the likes of Perera make themselves out to be to a largely naïve bunch of donors and agent provocateurs ever-ready to mouth the proverbial ‘last word’ on all things that come under ‘none-of-your-business’. 

The NPC, currently under investigation has predictably issued a whine.  Perera has claimed that the NPC ‘[does] not in any way seek to engage in any political activity’.  It is funny that a man of his learning has such a kindergarten understanding of the word ‘political’, but I shall let that pass.  More crucially, in response to newspaper reports and comments about the scandalous amounts of money received by his bulath-kade and other kiosks in the political wayside to do next to nothing and with very little to show by way of results, Mudalali Perera has said that the strongly pro-LTTE, pro-Eelamist cartel ‘do not generally engage in activities where the output can be seen and felt or measured in terms of bricks and mortars or income increased’. 

Now Mudalali Perera has nothing to say about fraternal businesspersons who do the bricks-and-mortar type operations and who have had nothing to show for the billions of rupees spent in the formerly LTTE controlled areas.  I am going to be kind. I call it selective memory loss. The betel-tycoon says that the NPC, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and Transparency International ‘are primarily involved in public education activities and work that involves changing attitudes’ which, as he rightly claims are indeed ‘less visible, tangible and measurable’.  He says ‘outcomes are real, even if not so readily visible, tangible and measurable’. Neat way of explaining ‘zero outcome’. 

What has the money been spent on?  The NPC, in its latest release has effectively watered down original objective.  Whereas earlier, Perera advocated devolution of the ‘Federalism Plus’ kind, it’s now down to ‘reconciliation based on a just solution to the grievances of the ethnic minorities with devolution of power to enable them to carry out their administration of public affairs in the Tamil language.’  The NPC then takes the position that all that needs to be done is to ‘enable Tamils to carry out their administration of public affairs in the Tamil language’.  Now ‘devolution’ is not a necessary precondition for this, thank you very much. Add to this the fact that the majority of Tamils live outside the Northern and Eastern provinces and all talk of devolution as solution to ‘grievance’ and ‘aspiration’ go out of the window. 

Perera whines about the intangible and invisible; strange for someone who along with his buddies in the same business have got all the visibility and tangible benefits that a betel-kade mudalali could ever dream of. For more than 11 years (from 1994 onwards), these ladies and gentlemen had the ear of the highest in the land and their ideas had fantastic play-time on all media, private and state-owned.  They spouted Eelam Tamil mythology as fact, stuffed tons of devolution down the public throat and worked tirelessly to give a terrorist organization parity of status with a democratically elected government.  Almost forgot, they got billions of money to do all this with. They failed and that’s by Perera’s admission, evidenced by the brand-new watered down set of ‘objectives’ referred to above.  One can’t help thinking that a betal-kade mudalali sans all this visibility would have done better. 

Let’s move on to Perera’s corporate partner, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.  He claims that all audited accounts of the CPA and the CMEV (Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, which is an outfit essentially run by the CPA with two other name-board organizations) are on their respective websites.  No, not all annual reports and none since 2009.  The CMEV audit report is hidden in a small-print pdf file in the middle of a lengthy project report.  Nothing about who got how much for what.  It shouldn’t be too much trouble for an organization so fascinated with transparency and accountability to publish it all.  Have not, and I predict, will not.  Saravanamuttu takes refuge behind the fact that the CMEV is recognized by the Elections Commissioner and is a legally constituted organization and therefore accountable to relevant authorities.  The fact that the CPA/CMEV and others have got billions of rupees and nothing much to show by way of return on investment shows flaw in regulatory mechanism, but that is easy, slothful and morally reprehensible ‘out’ for organizations that enjoy riding the moral high horse on things like accountability, transparency and good governance. It is like someone using legal loopholes to hoodwink people and embezzle funds.  It is therefore incumbent on the Government to correct the relevant regulatory mechanisms.  C.A. Chandraprema has outlined the problems and suggested correctives (‘The legal basis of NGO impunity,’ The Island of April 7, 2011) and this is a useful set of guidelines in this regard.

Saravanamuttu is demanding that those who (like me) have mentioned amounts and signatories pertaining to massive funds received for election monitoring mention sources.  Well, let me say that I have copies of all the agreements with donors for Saravanamuttu’s perusal. He can check them against his own documents and let me know if they are duds.    He does not deny the amounts given or the fact of agreement.  He has dodged the issue of the scandalous nature of amounts, considering work promised and left undelivered.  Telling!

The CMEV was not at all visible during the recently concluded local government elections.  Some reports have been posted, but these don’t require hundreds of monitors but a careful monitoring of the news.  Perhaps they didn’t have money.  Now an organization (or a cartel, if we throw in the other members of the mutual-adoration club such as Perera) that has at its disposal over millions of dollars it has received for election-monitoring over a period exceeding a decade would have in that time built an entire army of committed volunteers in every nook and corner of the country which it could mobilize each time an election is announced. 

That the CPA/CMEV has not been able to do this shows incompetence, a lack of seriousness about things like sustainability (which feeds happy donor-dependency) and sloth.  Take money out, out goes business?  That’s not the way a self-righteous, committed, ready-to-do-the-hard-yards kind of organization operates, I am sorry.  Pampered is the word that is appropriate here, I believe.  And now they all lie exposed.  Exposed and whining. 

[April 10, 2011 in ‘The Nation’]

Reactions:

3 comments:

sl130 said...

these organizations are full of crooks but one should understand that it is the gov it self that has created enough oppurtunities(by continuing their blatant rights violations) for these peolple to make use of.

Peter Casie Chetty said...

You have got the best view of these people. For the few years I was in Sri Lanka i always wondered why Chandrika Bandaranaike was making all kinds of noises about the NGOs being frauds and never doing anything about it. Obviously Pakaisothy was her sister's "boy friend" and Jehan had a lair somewhere in Nugegoda and was promoting himself as an advocate of Peace whereas he was really pushing his paravara Roman Catholic drivel on the world through articles in all the newspapers. That man has a Sinhalese name but cannot put a sentence together in Sinhalese!
I do not believe, I KNOW that each and every one of these traitor are also frauds. Navin Pillay has "warned" that they should not be "harrassed". Who the hell is this permanantly second class African woman? She was second class when the whites ruled, now she is second class under black rule.

Shaik Ahamath said...

I used to think it is inconceivable that any right minded people could be desirous of the disastrous conflict in Sri Lanka continuing. Now I know why. Without the conflict these pseudo do-gooding fraudsters and their organisations would soon evaporate. The next best thing for them is to make up a need to justify their existence. The Tamil business community in UK and elsewhere rejoicing the demise of the LTTE was shortlived - the LTTE's fundraising machinery i.e. racketeering and extortion, has been resurrected in the guise of their work not yet finished.