22 April, 2021

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Unaccountable NGOs & National Appointments

By Amrit Muttukumaru

Amrit Muttukumaru

Amrit Muttukumaru

The integrity of almost all large NGOs in this country can be questioned on the basis of their miserable financial accountability. Some may even have metamorphosed in to family or ‘sole proprietor’ businesses! What is of particular concern is that many NGO ‘captains’ are close to the political power center (particularly the Wickremesinghe administration) and thereby influence national policy not always for the good – but always self-serving! These include (i) Keeping application of ‘Right to Information’ away from NGOs and the private sector (ii) not bringing private sector wrongdoers to heel (iii) auditors not made accountable for professional misconduct.

How could such persons be even considered for appointment to national bodies needing UNQUESTIONED INTEGRITY?

Open Invitation

This is an ‘Open Invitation’ to large NGOs in Sri Lanka to CONFIRM with EVIDENCE placing on their otherwise elaborate websites: “project based donor information (inclusive of amount and source) together with concomitant expenditure appropriately broken down to also reflect administrative and personnel costs and payments to individuals”

I doubt any of them doing this!

Major Accountability Issues

1) Appalling accountability for the millions of dollars received by large NGOs from concerned donors worldwide in the aftermath of the 2004 ‘boxing day’ Tsunami. It is perceived that many have made a ‘killing’ due to weak monitoring. TAFREN set up under the Kumaratunga administration under the Chairmanship of Mr. Mano Tittawella has to bear major responsibility for this lapse.

Ranil maithriIt is still not too late for these ‘social entrepreneurs’ to establish their credibility.

Mano Tittawella is urged in the PUBLIC INTEREST to disclose the SOURCE, AMOUNT and IDENTITY of the major recipients of Tsunami donor funds.

2) Financial accountability for the RS.250 Million foreign funded ‘Sri Lanka Anti-Corruption Program’ of which the main local partners were inter-connected NGOs – Transparency International Sri Lanka, Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Free Media Movement.

3) The failure of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) to respond credibly to damning allegations made in 2014 by Colombo Telegraph of financial impropriety which include:

i) “billing for un-held workshops”

ii) “engaging in double billing,’ i.e getting grants from two donors to do the same task”

If this is even partly true, it is preposterous!

4) A key official of the ‘International Centre for Ethnic Studies’ –

“in accepting responsibility for some losses, has claimed that she simply signed anything put in front of her by the Financial Controller, who she thought was not competent.” Ref. ‘The Nation on Sunday’ 27 January 2008

To the best of our knowledge this allegation has not been refuted.

One would think that the alleged ‘incompetence’ of the ‘Financial Controller’ would have demanded more caution. The OPPOSITE appears to have taken place!

How could such persons ever hold positions of fiduciary responsibility?

5) ‘MISCELLANEOUS’ expense of 22.78 % in the ‘Expense Report’ 2013-14 of then District Governor of ROTARY SRI LANKA was approved stating it is “in accordance with the established policies” of Rotary International! This is outrageous. No responsible entity will ever tolerate such a high ‘miscellaneous’ expense.

Ref. ‘Report’ dated 8 November 2014

The individual approving it is a Senior Chartered Accountant who was faulted for PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT together with the other Partners of his erstwhile audit firm by the (i) Supreme Court (ii) Parliament’s COPE (iii) Attorney-General, in relation to the fraudulent privatization of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation.

Rotary International is one of the largest and most affluent NGOs in the world with a STRONG SRI LANKA PRESENCE. It solicits and receives massive worldwide public donations on the back of purporting to be a transparent and ethical entity.

6) Rotary Sri Lanka implemented with Tsunami donations a US $10 Million project captioned ‘Schools Re-awaken’ to rebuild/rehabilitate 25 Tsunami devastated schools with QUESTIONABLE ACCOUNTABILITY.

Secrecy

1) A Rotary International officer from SRI LANKA after breaching a mandatory policy made the following SCANDALOUS utterances in his e-mail of 27 April 2006 to then District Governor:

( curiously it was ONLY COPIED to the Chartered Accountant approving the 22.78 %  ‘Miscellaneous’ expense!)

i) “keep this matter Private and quiet”

ii) “We just wanted our job done”

iii) “I had made submissions to the Trustees and Board”

This must rate as one of the most DASTARD utterances ever in an apparent ‘COVER-UP’!

Does this not also indicate the COMPLICITY of Rotary International?

This Sri Lankan who is likely to hold HIGH OFFICE in this NGO is the Managing Director of a ‘quoted’ public company!

2) A mere request for the NAMES OF DIRECTORS in the entities coming under the ‘Sri Lanka Press Institute’ controlled by influential sections of the private media elicited the response:

“Could you please let me know for what purpose you require this information?”

Ref. E-mail of PCCSL (CEO) dated 1 October 2009

Implications for Good Governance

1) From the examples cited above, it would appear that large NGOs in this country for the most part have a CAVALIER ATTITUDE to FINANCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY. Hence, one has to question the prudence of appointing NGO bigwigs to national bodies needing unquestioned integrity.

2) There appears to be an ‘unhealthy’ nexus between influential sections of the political establishment, private sector, professional groups, mainstream media and NGOs. They have common interests such as keeping things “Private and quiet “ from the public!

3) An example is the appointment of Mr. J.C. Weliamuna – Chairman, Transparency International Sri Lanka and Attorney-at-Law closely identified with the top UNP leadership to head the probe team on alleged corruption and abuse in Sri Lankan Airlines. The Weliamuna Report which confirms the corruption and gross abuse of power the public has long suspected, has been SELECTIVE in allocating responsibility. Based on the Prime Minister’s statement (which Weliamuna has not refuted) the report which castigates some persons in top management neglects to state that this took place UNDER THE WATCH of long standing auditors – Ernst & Young and its then Board of Directors which included corporate bigwigs – many of them also in its Audit Committee – some even as Chairmen!

4) What is the stand of ‘Friday Forum’ members (until recently) Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala and Dr. Jayampathi Wickramaratne PC who are now ‘Presidential Advisers’ on the application of RTI to NGOs and the private sector? In view of the positions they now hold, this is more than of academic interest!

5) Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala has in effect indicated to this writer that he is NOT INTERESTED in having audit firms Ernst & Young and PwC made accountable for their professional misconduct confirmed by the (i) Supreme Court (ii) Parliament’s COPE (iii) Attorney-General, in relation to the fraudulent privatization of the SLIC. This is APPALLING for a person of his professional background.

6) Is it any surprise NGO entrepreneurs are fighting ‘tooth and nail’ with the support of the mainstream media to keep NGOs and the Private Sector out of the proposed ‘Right to Information’ legislation?

7) The mainstream media in turn has a vested interest in forestalling any proposal for a truly ‘independent’ mechanism to brought under the ambit of the 19th Amendment to bring an acceptable level of integrity and credibility to the media. The less said about the private media controlled ‘Sri Lanka Press Institute’ and its Press Complaints Commission (PCCSL) the better!

8) Dr. Rohan Samarajiva – Chairman, LIRNEasia has gone on record OPPOSING application of RTI to NGOs. Will Dr. Harsha de Silva – Deputy Minister, Policy Planning and Economic Affairs who for long was its Lead Economist and currently Consultant Economist clarify his stand on this issue? His Minister is Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

9) Other Directors of LIRNEasia include Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, General Secretary of Sarvodaya Movement. Does he share the view of Rohan Samarajiva that RTI should not apply to NGOs? His father Mr. A.T.Ariyaratne – Founder & President of Sarvodaya who has reportedly been proposed to the ‘Constitutional Council’ has consistently claimed that Sarvodaya is a transparent entity. Will he put his money where his mouth is and CONFIRM he will support RTI being applicable to NGOs and the private sector?
10) How often have the shenanigans of large companies, leading professionals and large NGOs been exposed by mainstream media – ALMOST NEVER! It is left to websites such as Colombo Telegraph to do this – so long as they do it with OBJECTIVITY.

Conclusion

I urge the parties concerned to RESPOND without prevarication in the PUBLIC INTEREST.

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    I have no hesitation to agree that NGOs should be accountable to the public big or small. Their prevailing professional ethics are questionable to my experience in Sri Lanka. Perhaps RTI is one way of making them doing so as many SARC countries have done. This is of course in addition or beyond the primary responsibility of government and public entities including political parties and trade unions. One proviso that should apply is the protection of privacy of individuals. There may be other safeguards necessary for NGOs without taking the accountability to absurdity. We also have to take into account that certain political regimes and parties are perennially hostile to NGOs.

    However, I am not sure how RTI could apply in the case of private (business) companies. Under company laws or parallel legislation, the shareholders or members do have some rights, and companies are also obliged to declare basic accounts and other information of their companies and this is for their own competitive benefits. Not that I am a protector of business or private companies (!) but we have to understand that our economies operate under a capitalist system with certain safeguards to companies under private property and professional freedom laws. The best way to improve their accountability might be to enhance or emphasize Corporate Social Responsibilities rather than using RTI. If any company has breached laws or acts in corruptive manner then there are or should be other laws to bring them to books.

    This article takes too many things in one stroke also with unconfirmed (or partly confirmed) information about some personalities. As a result, the basic focus of the article is unfortunately blurred. If accountability is the main thrust, then the accountability in writing also should be respected without breaching people’s privacy and professional integrity. I cannot understand why vituperative comments are brought into otherwise a valid analysis. Is it part of the confusion or personal antagonisms prevailing in our society?

  • 2
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    Makes for very interesting reading, particularly what appear to be the conclusively-documented instances of hypocrisy of the “holier-than-thou” brigade!
    Having worked with what were called “non-profits” in another country for about a quarter century, I know that corruption-free accountable behaviour IS possible in the provision of services that NGOs can best and most effectively provide. However, it takes the will to do so and I have seen little of that will in a society that is not only saturated in corruption but where there is little evidence that there is going to be the kind of change that we need urgently. “Everyone has his price” continues to be the slogan under which even the most recent government, supposedly dedicated to “cleaning up,” operates!
    In a society saturated in venality, as long as the general populace is prepared to continue countenancing this state of affairs, there appears to be little hope of change.

    • 8
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      Who can speak louder about the [Edited out] Pooten?

      He is a bit quieter than usual these days after Minister Kiriella cut him down to size by exposing his [Edited out]

      On the main issue of the NGOs, people like J. C. Weliamuna, Paikiyasothy Saravanamuttu and Jehan Perera are on this filthy business for the Euros and dollars they receive in ship loads. They are not going to be “accountable” to anyone unless the yahapalana brigade raids their offices (in Colombo 7) and get the shit out.

      Weliamuna also proved what a fraud he is with the robbing of Air Lanka and the crusader Arjuna Ranatunga with a “corruption report” corruptly produced as the CT revealed.

      Down with these thieves.

  • 4
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    Muttukumaru at his bulldog best!

    My god, the ngo’nista’s will be frothing at the mouth as they rehydrate at In on the Park tonight.

    The thing is that everybody except the foreign donors wants to know what is happening to their dosh. The foreigners don’t really care as long they keep the natives restless (chuckle, chuckle).

    One careless bugger let slip that he puts in a weekly chit for some soothing afternoon delight at a little place (hush, hush) down old Mt Lavinia. Soo cheeky!

    Nice work if you can get it, and if you get it, tell me how.

  • 2
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    Amrit Aiya what are you doing at a time JVP’s Anura Kumara whose children attend the CIS is hammering at Frauds commited by MR.

    Seeing that clip AKD’s statement, fraud allegations of MR appear to look pale in comparison to TAFREN set up under CBK chairmanship of Noel.T…
    Rs. 250m fund to combat financial Accountability with local partners TI /CPA/FMM ..OMG and host of other glaring matters…DEIYO SAKKI !!

  • 0
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    Hey buddy we are in it together

  • 0
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    DR. LAKSIRI FERNANDO

    There is CONFUSION in the response of Dr Laksiri Fernando to my article “Unaccountable NGOs & National Appointments” seeking ACCOUNTABILITY of NGOs. On the one hand he states “…article is unfortunately blurred” on the other he is of the opinion “…otherwise a valid analysis”!

    He is also AMBIVALENT particularly on the application of ‘Right to Information’ to the private sector.

    He must appreciate that the Private Sector (‘quoted’ & ‘unquoted’) is increasingly involved in providing services VITAL TO THE COMMUNITY at a PROFIT which includes – education, health, transport, communication, power & energy, infrastructure and plantations on state owned lands.

    Surely he CANNOT BE SERIOUS in postulating “The best way to improve their accountability might be to enhance or emphasize Corporate Social Responsibilities rather than using RTI.”!

    The concept of CSR although not without merit, for the most part has been abused in Sri Lanka and I suspect in many other countries to serve as a FIG LEAF to GLOSS OVER a range of negatives.

    I emphasize that RTI alone is not the answer for corporate and NGO accountability. It must be in conjunction with other measures.

    Fernando while being more positive on RTI application to NGOs refers to “protection of privacy of individuals” and “safeguards necessary for NGOs”

    I ask him – why should there be “privacy” for “individuals” and “safeguards” for “NGOs” for conduct PROVEN to be inimical to the PUBLIC INTEREST?

    The opening line of my article observed:

    “The integrity of almost all large NGOs in this country can be questioned on the basis of their miserable financial accountability.”

    Does Fernando agree?

    While for the private sector there is the company law, SEC and other legislation, there is a GAPING LACUNA for NGO accountability. There is no basis to ‘go easy’ on the NGO sector since all its FUNDING is purportedly to SERVE THE PUBLIC!

    For example, how does this tally with (i) ‘miscellaneous’ expense being an OUTRAGEOUS 22.78 % in the ‘Expense Report’ 2013-14 of then District Governor of ROTARY SRI LANKA? (ii) alleged “billing for un-held workshops” by the Centre for Policy Alternatives?

    Fernando alleges that the “basic focus of the article is unfortunately blurred” since it “takes too many things in one stroke”. On the other hand, if I only cited one or two examples he may have accused me of gross ‘GENERALIZATION’!

    He states: “I cannot understand why vituperative comments are brought into otherwise a valid analysis.”

    While appreciating his observation – “otherwise a valid analysis.” I urge that he SPECIFY the alleged “vituperative comments”

    While MISCHIEVOUSLY IGNORING my concluding line:

    “I urge the parties concerned to RESPOND without prevarication in the PUBLIC INTEREST.”

    He refers to – “unconfirmed (or partly confirmed)information about some personalities”!

    I urge him to SUBSTANTIATE this and REVEAL THE NAMES of “personalities” whose “professional integrity” he claims I have “breached”.

    To date NONE of these “personalities” with purported “professional integrity” have responded. The conclusion is inescapable!

  • 0
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    When RED CROSS, a previously much admired entity is visibly corrupt what hope is there for the others.? The Red Cross collected nearly US$ 500 from the general public for the benefit of the Haitians after the recent Earthquake had killed some 220,000 people, yet manage to construct all of 6 houses with the money. The general public have been kicked in the teeth. It is interesting that these entities now attract politicians’ spouses to lead them as the latter can smell easy money from afar.

  • 0
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    Amrith, well compiled article, which reflects to a minor sense that our country and society has been going through and suffering from an epidemic of crime in all forms. Manipulation of facts, artful and clever but deceptive accountability, pummeling of those who are in the know with evidence from revealing the truth, wolves in sheeps’ clothing, covering under the veil of innocence, Skunks masquerading under the various slogans of do gooders, etc. Governments throughout have farmed, nurtured and given refuge to criminal elements and even have obtained their participation to loot the economy in various ways. The more than 60% of society are bogged down in a swamp of pollution that will probably remain for many years. The amount national debt to a greater extent reflects this.

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