This expose` is sequel to an earlier expose` of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), Colombo, Sri Lanka, published online in Colombo Telegraph on January 17, 2016.
While the previous expose` revealed the process of research fraud committed by the ICES on an on-going research and advocacy project (Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women – GrOW Sri Lanka) funded jointly by the Department for International Development (DfID, UK), International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada) and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (USA) and administered by the IDRC, this expose` will reveal financial fraud committed by the ICES on two research projects funded by the IDRC from 2006-7 to 2008-9, according to an evaluation commissioned by the Peace, Conflict and Development (PCD) Programme of the IDRC. Dr. Mark Hoffman of the Department of International Relations, London School of Economics was the author of the foregoing Evaluation Report dated May 2009 who undertook fieldwork in Sri Lanka for this evaluation in October 2008.
Since I did not receive my salary for over two months since the commencement of the GrOW Sri Lanka project, on December 15, 2014 I wrote to Mano Buckshi (Grant Administrator at the IDRC, Ottawa) (copied to Madiha Ahmed) telling him that “I suspect that the GrOW money is being spent on other activities of the ICES which is why the delay in payment of my salary, buying laptops, and hiring personnel. This is my speculation because I do not have any evidence. I cannot figure-out any other reason for the foregoing delays.” The Grant Administrator assured me that “we will certainly consider your account of how the project is unfolding when the program visits with the institution and its project staff in early 2015 as part of our regular monitoring. We would expect ICES to honour its contractual obligations and hopefully the issues you have raised and from which you are directly impacted will be resolved shortly.”
The Senior Programme Specialist overseeing the GrOW Sri Lanka project in Ottawa, Madiha Ahmed, and Dr. Navsharan Singh (Senior Programme Officer) from the Asia Regional Office in New Delhi visited Colombo and the Northern Province in early February 2015. Madiha Ahmed told me that the IDRC Regional Office in New Delhi will conduct an audit of the GrOW Sri Lanka financial accounts at the ICES. During a Skype conversation with me on August 07, 2015, Madiha claimed that IDRC did not find any financial irregularity in their audit of the project accounts at ICES and promised to send me the audit report, which I have not received to date (January 2016). However, Mark Hoffman in his Evaluation Report dated May 2009 has revealed the same financial fraud at the ICES, which I had suspected in GrOW Sri Lanka project, in two previous projects funded by the PCD / IDRC during 2006-7 to 2008-9.
The IDRC has funded two research projects entitled “Post-Tsunami Reconstruction in Contexts of War: A Grassroots Study of the Geo-Politics of Humanitarian Aid in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka & Aceh,Indonesia” (project no.103614) and “Diasporas, Transnationalism and Global Engagement: Tamil and Sinhala Transnational Communities and Networks in Canada and their nexus in Sri Lanka” (project no.103776) between the period 2006-7 and 2008-9. The Principal Investigator of the former was Dr. Malathi de Alwis and the latter was Dr. Rudramoorthy Cheran (a replacement for the originally proposed Principal Investigator Radhika Coomaraswamy).
Mark Hoffman (2009) claims that “IDRC has a long standing working relationship with ICES.”…….and “…….some of the lead researchers on the projects (Malathi de Alwis and Radhika Coomaraswamy) being ‘know quantities’ to the PCD/IDRC programme officers added to PCD/IDRC confidence about the sustainability of the two projects. As is discussed later in the report, the faith in ICES may have been misplaced, especially in the area of financial management.” (Page 12)
The evaluation report by Mark Hoffman highlights the methodological weaknesses and non-fulfilment of the comparative analyses proposed originally; i.e. in the post-tsunami study, the comparative perspective of Aceh and Sri Lanka as well as the comparisons between the east, north, and south of Sri Lanka never materialised. (Page 16) Indeed the post-tsunami research completely abandoned fieldwork in the eastern and northern provincesof Sri Lanka and concentrated entirely in the southern province due to the deteriorating security situation.
The aforementioned Principal Investigators (Malathi de Alwis and Rudramoorthy Cheran) have told the evaluator, Mark Hoffman, that “the pool of researchers associated with ICES had become ‘institutionalised’, working primarily in elite language (English) and in an elite, Colombo-centric mind-set. They tended to be people ‘stamped’ with an overseas MSc and were not as ‘street wise and smart’ as some of the ‘homegrown’ researchers were. As one interviewee wryly noted: ‘Their primary skills seemed to be an ability to function in English and socialize easily at ICES events with the international community’. The lead researchers were also disappointed in the quality of the research produced by the available pool of ICES researchers.” (Page 19)
On the issue of financial probity of the ICES, Mark Hoffman noted that “Its (ICES’s) capacity for financial management was deemed by PCD / IDRC staff to be ‘surprisingly weak given the amount of funding it was receiving and controlling’. Senior researchers on the two projects noted that the institute would regularly use funds from one project to cover costs on another. Some of these problems were known to PCD / IDRC as it sent in a financial control to provide assistance and staff training in the area of financial control. It is clear that as a result of the revelations, ICES’s reputation within Sri Lanka has been tarnished and senior staff are slowly disengaging from it, which over the medium term may undermine its research credentials.” (Pages28-9)
He continues “These failings do not apply solely to ICES. Instead, ICES’s problems may be fairly typical for a number of the older, more established Sri Lankan research institutes. The implication for IDRC partnering is that it may need to turn to some of the newer institutes which tend to be staffed by a younger generation of scholars with better management skill and who are more resourceful, in responding to changes in the political and funding environments.” (Page 29)
Mark Hoffman had explicitly urged “PCD to explore new researcher partners outside the ’usual suspects’ while maintaining links to existing partners and geographically expand outside the ‘metropole’ and the dominant country locales.” (Page 31)
Mark Hoffman argues that “The development of research capabilities needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner at different levels. There is the need to build up an indigenous, non-metropole research capacity which has access to and the trust of local populations, fostering an awareness and understanding of local dynamics, able to interpret information/findings within a local context, and to assist in giving voice to the local as a counter-balance to external and/or metropole-centric view of the societal dynamics at play…………….In pursuit of its capacity building objectives, PCD may need to develop a closer monitoring role with regard to how extensive it is, how deep it is and how sustainable it is rather than leaving this to reporting by lead researchers and lead research institutes.” (Page 32)
According to Mark Hoffman, the evaluation of the two projects funded by the IDRC and implemented by the ICES Colombo from 2006-7 to 2008-9 “is not an accountability evaluation, but should be considered as a learning exercise.” (Page 4) I cannot understand what lessons have the IDRC learnt from the past experiences with the ICES Colombo because IDRC has since then partnered with the ICES Colombo on two projects under the Safe and Inclusive Cities (SAIC) and Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) Programmes.
I publicly call upon the Canadian Minister for International Development to probe the unethical and unrepentant conduct of the IDRC in Sri Lanka, especially its continuing relationship with the corrupt ICES, even after the damning Evaluation Report by Mark Hoffman of the London School of Economics in 2009. I understand that the Regional Offices of the IDRC do the screening of its partner organisations in different countries in the decision making process of the project applications. Mark Hoffman had interviewed Navsharan Singh at the Asia Regional Office of the IDRC during 2008-9 programme evaluation. In this circumstance, it is important to make Navsharan Singh and other decision makers in Ottawa accountable for the IDRC’s decision to accept the ICES as the sole grantee in the GrOW Sri Lanka project despite the fact that PPID was a co-applicant. I earnestly hope that the Government of Canada will do justice to its tax payers.
I also publicly call upon the Secretary of State for International Development and the Department for International Development (DfID) of the United Kingdom to probe the persistent unethical conduct of the IDRC in funding perennially corrupt ICES in Sri Lanka and review its development cooperation with the IDRC. Since both Arjan de Haan (Programme Leader, Inclusive Growth) and Madiha Ahmed (Senior Programme Specialist) have been long time employees of the DfID in London and Islamabad respectively, before joining the IDRC, they along with Mano Buckshi (Grant Administrator) should also be made accountable to their actions and/or inactions in the GrOW Sri Lanka project.
This and the previous expose` of the ICES in Sri Lanka raises serious concerns about the accountability of the countries such as Canada and the UK in funding corrupt and unethical civil society institutions such as the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in post-civil war Sri Lanka.
*Muttukrishna Sarvananthan (Ph.D. Wales, M.Sc. Bristol, M.Sc. Salford, and B.A. (Hons) Delhi) is a Development Economist by profession and the Founder and Principal Researcher of the Point Pedro Institute of Development (http://pointpedro.org), Point Pedro, Northern Province, Sri Lanka. He was an Endeavour Research Fellow at the Monash University, Melbourne (2011 – 2012) and a Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington D.C. (2008 – 2009) who can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org