Colombo Telegraph

Unaccountable NGOs & National Appointments

By 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.

It 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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