In August 2013 I received a “Call for Proposals” (CfP) by the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) programme of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada) through a global network I am member of. The GrOW programme is jointly funded by the Department for International Development (DfID), IDRC, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (California); the DfID contributing nearly seventy per cent of the total funding. However, IDRC is the implementing agency.
I was interested in bidding for this research and policy advocacy grant because I have been always concerned about ethnic, gender, and regional inequalities in Sri Lanka and have a track record of peer-reviewed academic publications to demonstrate that concern. Besides, I had completed a study for the CARE International (Sri Lanka) in early 2013 on the impact of post-civil war economic growth on women in the former conflict-affected Eastern and Northern Provinces of Sri Lanka and wished to upscale that study.
As the Point Pedro Institute of Development (PPID) does not have the administrative capacity to implement both the research and policy advocacy components of this grant, I approached the Executive Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) in Colombo, Mario Gomez, to find out whether ICES would like to collaborate with PPID and jointly submit a proposal to the IDRC. The choice of ICES for collaboration was mainly because it has a track record of research and advocacy on discrimination against women and on the cause of gender equality in Sri Lanka, especially until 2006 when it was headed by the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. Besides, I have worked at the ICES from January 2001 to December 2003 and subsequently collaborated with the ICES on a post-tsunami research study covering the Eastern, Northern, and Southern Provinces funded by the UNICEF (Sri Lanka office) during 2005-2006.
The ICES agreed to collaborate with PPID and make a joint submission to the CfP by the GrOW programme of the IDRC. The deadline for the first round of application was late-October 2013. The proposal was prepared by an ICES staff in collaboration with two other temporary staff of the ICES with significant input from me on behalf of the PPID. In this first round of the proposal Chulani Kodikara of the ICES was proposed to be the Principal Investigator (PI) and Muttukrishna Sarvananthan of the PPID was to be the Co-Investigator (CI) and no other personnel were proposed. Our joint proposal was short-listed in January 2014 and ICES-PPID was asked to submit a full proposal (including the budget) by late March 2014. The first round of application was reviewed by three external reviewers appointed by the IDRC and we received the comments by the three external reviewers in order to address the concerns raised by the reviewers in our full proposal.
The full proposal was again prepared by two temporary staff of the ICES but I could not contribute to the second round of the proposal because of bereavement in my family. In addition to the aforementioned PI and CI, Dr. Kanchana Ruwanpura was proposed to be a Research Consultant in the study. In June 2014 the IDRC formally informed us that our project proposal has been accepted but wanted us to re-visit and clarify certain technical and financial aspects of our proposal. Most of the concerns raised were on the budget proposals, which were never shared by the ICES with me. There was no consultation with PPID or transparency in the preparation of the budget proposals to the IDRC. Later on I came to know that even Chulani Kodikara and/or the head of finance at the ICES were not consulted in the preparation of the budget proposals, which was prepared exclusively by a coterie headed by the Executive Director of the ICES, Mario Gomez.
The ICES-PPID received feedback from another set of three external reviewers on the second round of our joint research proposal and the application. Altogether six external reviewers appointed by the IDRC had reviewed the two rounds of our joint research proposal and the application. Selected feedbacks of the external reviewers are copied and pasted in the following box in order to demonstrate that the competence and track record of the Point Pedro Institute of Development and the Co-Investigator has played a pivotal role in securing this grant from the IDRC to undertake this research and policy advocacy through an international competitive bidding process.
The ICES-PPID have had two Skype conversations with a Senior Programme Specialist, Dr. Edgard Rodriguez, at the IDRC in June and August 2014 to clarify certain technical and financial concerns raised by the IDRC and finalise our project proposal that formed the basis of the contract between the IDRC and ICES. By June 2014 I was informed by Mario Gomez that Kanchana Ruwanpura has pulled out of the project and Dr. Ramani Gunatilake has replaced Kanchana. Even more surprisingly I was informed by the ICES in August 2014 that Chulani Kodikara will not be participating in this project and Mario Gomez will replace Chulani as the Principal Investigator.
Although I was a bit intrigued by these developments, as I felt extremely uncomfortable that both the Principal Investigator and the Co-Investigator of the proposed research study and policy advocacy on women’s economic empowerment are males, I did not raise any objection to Mario Gomez being discreetly appointed as the PI because I did not want to ‘rock the boat’ so to speak. Nevertheless, I felt betrayed by Chulani Kodikara, because my initiative to collaborate with the ICES on this project was on the strength of Chulani Kodikara. To date (January 2016) Chulani Kodikara and Muttukrishna Sarvananthan are named to be the Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator of this research study and policy advocacy respectively on the website of the IDRC.
There was a change of personnel at the IDRC end as well; Madiha Ahmed replaced Dr. Edgard Rodriguez as the Senior Programme Specialist overseeing the ICES-PPID study in Sri Lanka. Madiha Ahmed had joined the IDRC in September 2014, having worked for the DfID in Pakistan. The GrOW programme is part of the Inclusive Growth Programme of the IDRC headed by Dr. Arjan de Haan, who had worked for DfID in London for several years prior to joining the IDRC.
The total grant for the ICES-PPID three-year project was almost 80 million Sri Lankan rupees (671,000 Canadian Dollars) spread over three years (October 2014 – September 2017). The cost of three PPID personnel (Co-Investigator, Senior Researcher, and Research Assistant), plus a sum of rupees 600,000 for capacity building, was only 19.8% of the total grant amount. The rest 80.2% of the grant was earmarked for the ICES including administrative and overhead costs. A couple of striking questionable financial allocation to the ICES as follows: a grant allocation of 4.32 million rupees was made to the “ICES library staff time” for this project over the three-year period. In addition, a grant allocation of 2.88 million rupees was made to the “ICES IT staff contribution”, whereas there is NO such IT division or staff at the ICES. In spite of the exorbitant allocation of 4.32 million rupees to the ICES library, it took nearly three months for the ICES to translate an English publication (just forty pages) into Tamil for the qualitative research team members.
I was informed by Mario Gomez in the first week of September 2014, all out of the blue, that one Danesh Jayatilaka has been appointed as the Project Coordinator for the ICES-PPID project. There was NO transparent process in the recruitment of Danesh Jayatilaka and PPID was not consulted at all in spite of being a collaborating partner institute (aka “participating institution”) officially accepted by the IDRC. I was not only intrigued by this unilateral back-door recruitment of the Project Coordinator by Mario Gomez, I also had serious reservations about the capacity and suitability of Danesh Jayatilaka for this position.
First of all, after Mario Gomez discreetly and cunningly replacing Chulani Kodikara as the Principal Investigator of the ICES-PPID project, I wished to ensure at least the Project Coordinator of this women-focussed project is a female. So the recruitment of a male for the position of Project Coordinator was abhorrent to me.
Secondly, in my opinion Danesh Jayatilaka did not have the necessary academic background to be the Project Coordinator of this project because he had no prior experience in gender and/or economic research. Danesh has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Studies from an unheard of community college (not a University) in the United States of America, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Sri Jayawardanepura University, and claims to be a Ph.D. student at the Department of Economics, University of Colombo, for more than past five years.
Thirdly, Danesh Jayatilaka amply demonstrated his lack of research ethics by including my name in the ‘acknowledgements’ section of one of his co-authored report (released in January 2015) without any contribution at all by me to that report. I was not even aware that he was involved in such a study; under which circumstance it was a fraud to acknowledge my contribution. By mentioning my name in the acknowledgements, an impression is given that I have endorsed the report which is false.
Fourthly, later on I came to know that Danesh Jayatilaka is a son of Dr. Nihal Jayatilaka who was the Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Development under the despicable Basil Rajapaksa (brother of the former megalomaniac President Mahinda Rajapaksa) during 2013 – 2014 period. Basil Rajapaksa and Nihal Jayatilaka (along with couple of others) were arrested in April 2015 on serious charges of fraud at their Ministry during the previous regime and are currently on bail.
Fifthly, in the appointment of members to the Project Advisory Group (PAG), Danesh suggested people who had no concern for women’s rights or women’s economic empowerment at all, and their names were proposed in order to expand his own personal social capital network. Of course, I opposed his suggestions and Chulani Kodikara supported me on this matter.
My repeated pleas to Mario Gomez to consider alternative persons (especially a woman) for the position of Project Coordinator were completely ignored. Mario Gomez and I had received very competent applications from two females for this position having earned doctorates from the Columbia University (USA) and the University of Bath (UK) respectively. Furthermore, a female project coordinator on a different project at the ICES who was involved in preparing the first round of project proposal and application to the IDRC in late-2013 was side-lined by Mario Gomez on the ICES-PPID project and therefore she resigned from ICES in December 2014 in disillusionment.
Thus, from the very beginning, even before the contract between the IDRC and ICES was signed in late September 2014, I found the conduct of the Executive Director of the ICES, Mario Gomez, unethical and unprofessional. Moreover, I also found him totally incompetent to be an Executive Director of any institution lacking basic administrative and communication skills, professional decorum, and above all honesty and integrity. For example, it took three months for the ICES (after the disbursement of the first instalment of the grant by IDRC) to issue the contract and pay the salary of PPID staff involved in this project. It is also important to note here that Mario Gomez was accepted by the IDRC to be the Principal Investigator of this research by virtue of him being the Executive Director of the grantee institution, ICES, and not on his own right and/or not because of his academic competence to head this particular research study.
I wrote to the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Mr. Daneshan Casie Chetty, on December 09, 2014, outlining the background to this project and my grievances against the Executive Director of the ICES, Mario Gomez. Since I did not receive a reply promptly from Casie Chetty I wrote to Madiha Ahmed and Mano Buckshi (Grant Administrator) at the IDRC in the second week of December 2014 for the first time. Belatedly, the Board of Directors of the ICES invited me for a meeting on December 23, 2014, along with Mario Gomez. In addition to Daneshan Casie Chetty, Dr. John Gunaratne, and Mr. Rajan Asirwatham of the governing board of the ICES participated in the meeting along with Mario Gomez. I was assured at that meeting that my grievances will be addressed immediately. However, I have NOT received a formal reply to the letter I wrote to the Chairperson of the ICES on December 09, 2014 to date (January 2016). Besides, the unethical and unprofessional behaviour of Mario Gomez continued unabated into 2015.
For instance, I made a request to the ICES in late-February 2015 to purchase ten voice recorders for the qualitative research team members to conduct in-depth interviews. I did not receive any reply from Mario Gomez for two weeks. When I sent him a reminder I was informed by Mario Gomez that there was no budgetary allocation to purchase voice recorders. I wrote back to him saying that it was not my fault because I was never consulted in the preparation of the budget proposals. After lengthy email exchanges between me and the IDRC, Board of Directors of the ICES and the Project Advisory Group, the qualitative research team did receive ten voice recorders in late March 2015. It was so difficult for the Executive Director of the ICES to spend a paltry sum of Rs.80,000 out of a total outlay of Rs.80 million on vital equipments for the qualitative research.
The training of the qualitative research team took place in Jaffna during March-April 2015 (ten days) and again in May 2015 (five days) in Vavuniya. The Principal Investigator Mario Gomez did not visit Jaffna or Vavuniya to meet the members of the qualitative research team or participate in the training. The Principal Investigator met couple of members of the qualitative research team in Colombo for the first time only in September 2015; i.e. one year after the commencement of the project in October 2014, which itself reveals that he did not have any commitment at all to the GrOW Sri Lanka project. The Project Coordinator Danesh Jayatilaka participated in the training programme for just half-a-day and Research Consultant Ramani Gunatilake participated for just one day. According to the confession made by the Research Consultant, her visit to Jaffna on March 25, 2015 was the first to Jaffna and the Northern Province in her life time!
The qualitative survey instrument was developed in a participatory manner by the qualitative research team along with an international trainer and the Co-Investigator by the first week of May 2015. It was also shared with the Principal Investigator, Project Coordinator, and the Research Consultant at the ICES and their feedback was sought, but we never received any feedback. By that time, I had sensed that the foregoing three persons did not have any commitment to the project, had no inclination to provide value for money to the grantor, and above all had no concern or empathy for the women of the Northern Province (particularly women-headed households, differently abled women, and former female combatants) who have undergone enormous hardships during the three decades of civil war. GrOW Sri Lanka was just another project to make a fast buck thanks to the benevolence of the tax payers of the United Kingdom and Canada given to Mario Gomez, et al, at the ICES on a platter by the IDRC.
I did receive a draft questionnaire for the quantitative survey from Ramani Gunatilake in March 2015. Since I was busy with the training of the qualitative research team from the last week of March to the first week of May 2015, I could send my feedback on the draft questionnaire only on May 13, 2015. Another reason for the delay in sending my feedback was that the qualitative and quantitative survey instruments had to be complementary to each other and therefore I was waiting till the qualitative survey instrument being developed in the first week of May 2015.
I had serious fundamental reservations about the draft quantitative survey questionnaire. Foremostly, the questionnaire did not adequately cover the research questions we proposed to address in our final research proposal to the IDRC dated November 2014. Due to brevity of space here I do not want to go into details about the reservations I had raised. I did propose specific additional questions to be incorporated and many common sense corrections. I did receive a reply from Ramani Gunatilake on May 14, 2015 (co-signed by Danesh Jayatilaka, Ranmini Vithanagama – a Research Assistant at the ICES, and Shiyana Gunasekera – an intern at the ICES) (copied to Mario Gomez and many others as well) to my feedback on the quantitative questionnaire summarily rejecting ALL my corrections and suggestions by claiming that “As we understand it, the project is meant to focus on economics first and gender second, meaning that the gender perspective will inform, first, the literature review, which will then inform the types of questions we are interested in, and lastly, the analysis.” To me the foregoing claim (highlighted) itself betrays the very purpose of this research on women’s economic empowerment. Moreover, the ICES had confessed to Arjan de Haan on October 20, 2015 that the literature review has not been completed by that time, though the quantitative survey has been completed. In the foregoing circumstance, how did the literature review inform the quantitative questionnaire?
For example, I would like to highlight one common sense practical correction I made to the quantitative questionnaire which was also arrogantly dismissed by Ramani Gunatilake and the coterie at the ICES. One question asked the extent of land the respondent household lives in and the respondent was supposed to answer the question in terms of the following measurement units of land: “acres” “roods”, “perches”. I pointed out that in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka the unit of land is measured in terms of kuli and parappu in common use as well as in the title deeds and not in terms of “roods” and “perches” as it is in Colombo and many other parts of the country, and therefore I asked it to be corrected which was NEVER done both in the English as well as the Tamil version of the final questionnaire. The latter two measurement units are significantly different in size than the former two. Such was the unilateral and hegemonic behaviour of the research team at the ICES.
The local knowledge was irrelevant for the above named scoundrels, whereas the external reviewers supported the ICES-PPID application significantly due to the participation of the PPID in this research (see the box above). The IDRC (particularly Madiha Ahmed) was fully informed and aware of this and other hegemonic behaviour of the research team at the ICES but failed to intervene for reasons best known to them. Perhaps for the IDRC too, this was just another project to make a fast buck.
I did not respond to Ramani Gunatilake’s reply to me dated May 14, 2015 in order to maintain professional decorum. Since then onwards I was shut out of this project by the ICES. The ICES unilaterally finalised the quantitative survey questionnaire without further consultation with the Co-Investigator or any other member of the qualitative research team. The training of the enumerators for the quantitative survey was undertaken in Jaffna during the last few days of June 2015 to which the Co-Investigator or any member of the qualitative research team were NOT invited by the ICES. The IDRC was fully informed about the foregoing developments.
The ICES was supposed to submit the first technical report to the IDRC by late July 2015. However, the Co-Investigator was not asked to provide any input to that technical report. Therefore, PPID submitted its own technical report to the IDRC on 31 July 2015. The IDRC sent me the technical report submitted by the ICES for my observations and comments. There were several claims made by the ICES which were not at all true or only partially true. For example, the ICES technical report dated July 22, 2015 claimed that the in-depth “interviews expected to be completed by end of July”, which was not true because by that time only ten per cent of the total number of interviews planned had been completed.
Madiha Ahmed had a Skype conversation with me about the technical report and other matters pertaining to the project on August 7, 2015, but the IDRC failed to take any remedial action about the concerns raised by me. She only informed me that the Programme Leader Dr. Arjan de Haan will be visiting Sri Lanka in late-October 2015 and will visit the North as well to meet me and the qualitative research team. Arjan de Haan did visit Sri Lanka in October 2015 but did not visit the North. He met the ICES personnel (including couple of qualitative research team members) and met me separately in Colombo on October 20, 2015, but of no avail. Arjan de Haan and Dr. Navsharan Singh (IDRC Regional Head based in New Delhi) were busy with meeting the High Commissioner of Canada in Colombo and few meetings arranged by her rather than addressing the serious problems in GrOW Sri Lanka project or visit the theatre of the research.
A couple of Project Advisory Group (PAG) members have told me that they were not informed by the ICES about IDRC visits in February and October 2015 and they have not got updates about the project for a long time. During the visits of IDRC personnel to Sri Lanka the ICES invites couple of academics from Colombo and Peradeniya Universities to meet them who do not make any contribution at all to the project. It is a cosmetic exercise by Mario Gomez, Danesh Jayatilaka, et al, to dupe the IDRC personnel.
My contract, which expired on September 2015, has not been renewed to date (January 2016) by the ICES. I have not been informed by the ICES about my position in this project to date. On November 2, 2015 I wrote to Madiha Ahmed (copied to Mano Buckshi) asking her what my position was in the project, to which I have had NO reply to date (January 2016). Such is the arrogant behaviour on the part of the IDRC as well. In spite of the foregoing apathy, even today, the IDRC website fraudulently claims that “Chulani Kodikara, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Sri Lanka” and “Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, Point Pedro Institute of Development, Sri Lanka” are the “Institutions and lead researchers” of the GrOW Sri Lanka project.
Is this the “inclusive growth” the DfID and IDRC professing? Is this the research ethics DfID and IDRC adhering to? A research study conceived and won through international competitive bidding by the PPID has been hijacked by the ICES fraudulently, which I am determined to challenge by all means. I am determined to make the ICES (particularly the Executive Director Mario Gomez and the Board of Directors) and IDRC accountable to the unethical research practices and atrocities mentioned herein. This note exposes only the unethical process of this research and advocacy project funded by the DfID, IDRC, and the Hewlett Foundation, and implemented by the ICES, Colombo, Sri Lanka. There are several methodological and technical critiques about this research and the quantitative survey instrument (and the translation thereof) which I will expose in a rejoinder to any publication arising out of this phoney research undertaken by the ICES.
I was compelled to go public on the issues mentioned herein because my repeated pleas to the ICES Board of Directors and the IDRC on these issues for more than a year have had no positive response at all. This expose, which is the beginning of a long struggle, was penned after serious soul searching. I publicly urge the Department for International Development (UK) to inquire into the issues exposed herein and the unethical conduct of both the IDRC and the ICES and thereby ensure justice to the British tax payers.
*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