13 February 2014

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

[Sri Lanka has had elections since 1931.  We got 'monitors' only recently.  The need was produced by palpable election malpractices, many but not all eliminated by the introduction of new laws and adoption of fraud-resistant techniques.  With the need to monitor, naturally, there came 'monitors'.  And there were and are all kinds.  We are now getting ready for Provincial Council elections.  Naturally, there's talk of monitors and monitoring.  This piece was written and published almost 3 years ago. Still valid, I believe]

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’. 

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

Ponnayek wage boru liyanne nethuwa report kiyawala liyapan.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

ridunada machang? report kiyavala thamai liwwe. nama kiyanna baruwa, chodanava sahathika karanna karunu idiripath nokara oyavage deval kiyana ekata nam 'ponnakama' kiyala kiyanna puluwan. :)