Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Wartime, post-conflict foreign funding of local groups, political parties, etc.


Lawmakers at the launch of 3-year USD 13 mn project in Nov 2016 in paliament to strengthen what the USAID called Sri Lanka's Parliament’s accountability and democratic governance

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Over a decade after the conclusion of the war some civil society groups/Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have taken up new challenges.

In the wake of the unprecedented crisis caused by coronavirus, the National Peace Council (NPC) had an opportunity to provide relief to the needy courtesy foreign donors.  The writer sought an explanation from the NPC’s Executive Director, Dr. Jehan Perera, soon after the Canadian High Commission in Colombo announced a substantial grant for the organisation for corona relief work.

The issue was raised on April 23, 2020, after Canadian HC announced CAD $56,000 (approximately 7.5 million LKR) to the NPC.

Asked as to why the NPC was given a Canadian grant to help Covid-19 affected communities, Dr. Perera said: "Even before the Canadian HC gave us this grant, our inter-religious committees, at the community level, were doing their own COVID relief work and this made us ask our donors to permit us to reallocate some of the funds given to us for educational and advocacy purposes to enable humanitarian work to be done.  Canada has gone one step further and also given us additional funds to distribute dry rations through our network of inter-religious committees and partner organizations, at the district and divisional levels.

A Canadian grant

The Government of Canada has provided over CAD $56,000 (approximately 7.5 million LKR) to support Sri Lanka’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, through targeted relief to some of those most affected, in vulnerable communities, the Canadian HC said in a statement, headlined ‘Canada supports communities impacted by the Covid-19 crisis in Sri Lanka’

The April 23 datelined statement, issued in Colombo said that the funds were granted to the NPC, through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI).

"The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka is part of the Civil Society Committee of the Presidential Covid-19 Task Force. With an established network, around the country, consisting of district level NGOs and inter-religious committees, the NPC will provide dry rations to many districts, nation-wide. As the lockdown and 24-hour curfew proved to be a serious challenge to many, the NPC will assist those in dire need, the mission said.

The statement quoted David McKinnon, High Commissioner of Canada to Sri Lanka, as having said: "I am impressed by the resolve of individuals, organizations and the various levels of government, in Sri Lanka in responding to this unprecedented global crisis".  HC McKinnon continued, "Through Canada’s support, we hope to assist the most vulnerable communities as they combat this disease and its severe economic impacts. I am glad we could work with the NPC to respond quickly to an identified need, working across communities and around the country".

The HC said: "As a response to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic – and to continue its mission to build trust in society and strengthen relations between ethnic and religious communities – the NPC will engage in crisis mitigation interventions by supplying dry rations to institutions, marginalized individuals and families identified by its partner network and state officials nation-wide. This will include persons with disabilities (PWDs), female-headed households, orphanages, long-term care facilities as well as elders’ homes."

The Canadian statement quoted Dr. Jehan Perera as having said; "There is a need for solidarity at this time across people, ethnicities, religions, regions and countries.  We are happy to be a part of this process to look after the most affected with Canada’s assistance."  

The NPC believes that engaging in these activities will strengthen collaboration across ethnic and religious divides, and encourage future integration. As always, Canada is honoured to work with local organizations for a prosperous, inclusive and healthy Sri Lanka, the HC concluded the statement.

According to the Canadian HC statement, received by the writer, Canada wouldn’t fund activities, related to the direct medical needs and interventions related to the pandemic. The NPC website listed help provided to different communities so far with the funds received from Canada.

The NPC, established in Feb 1995, as part of the overall efforts/protests against violence in the run-up to the 1994 presidential polls, subsequently transformed the group to a premier peace-making organization. The NPC played a significant role in President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarat-unga’s failed peace initiative in 1994-1995 and the high profile, but disastrous, Norway peace mission during Kumaratunga’s second term. 

A Norwegian donation

PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections), too, received a Norwegian grant in support of its efforts. The project was meant to help PAFFREL follow health and safety regulations to prevent the spread of coronavirus, during the parliamentary polls period and also to facilitate more women, involved in the election process and elections monitoring procedure. Having received confirmation of the agreement between Rohana Hettiarachchi, Executive Director of PAFFREL, and Ms. Monica Svenskerud, Chargé d’affaires of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo, the writer requested the Oslo mission here to reveal the funding made available to the civil society group. According to the Embassy, NOK 300,000 (or Rs 5.6 million) had been provided to PAFFREL, to facilitate its initiative. Norway funded PAFFREL, at the 2019 presidential polls, as well. At the moment, PAFFREL remains the only recipient of Norwegian grants for poll monitoring work.

PAFFREL has been engaged in polls monitoring work, since 1987. Having registered in terms of the Companies Act No 17 of 1982, and re-registered under the Companies Act No 07 of 2007, PAFFREL’s original objectives were to prevent malpractices and violence before, during and after elections, as mentioned by the group in its website.

Civil society/NGOs received substantial foreign funding during the conflict. The end of the conflict in May 2009, with the eradication of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the gradual transformation of the electoral process/electioneering, compelled interconnected PAFFREL, NPC el al to explore ways and means of new initiatives.

In spite of their much-touted determination, to conduct free and fair elections, both PAFFREL and NPC conveniently refrained from commenting on LTTE/TNA (Tamil National Alliance) directive to the northern electorate not to exercise their franchise in support of UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, or PA candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Nov 17, 2005 presidential poll. The LTTE/TNA move helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to defeat Ranil Wickremesinghe by 186,000 votes. The result swiftly created an environment conducive for the LTTE to resume large scale hostilities, in August 2006. To make a long story short, Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP told the writer in an exclusive interview (the first while the LTTE’s one-time chief arms procurer was in the custody of the Directorate of Military Intelligence); the LTTE believed Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election would make things easy for the group. KP was brought to Colombo, in August 2009, in agreement with Malaysia - certainly the highest point of cooperation received from an influential country in Sri Lanka’s battle against the LTTE.  The rest is history.

A contentious issue

Irony of all this is that though most who work in these organisations must be honourable men and women, but what legitimacy do they have to be appointed as guardians of this country by alien interests and even to get aid that had been ostensibly declared as given to the country, while the legitimately elected government just has to watch such theatrics with its hands virtually tied behind its back. Lo and behold you know what happens to governments that would even dare to question such world order established by the self-appointed international community of the West.

 Foreign funds are granted/received on various pretexts. Funding is always meant to promote objectives, values and overall strategies of sponsors, regardless who the recipient is, but the question is are they in the interest of the country concerned. Sponsors strategies are always the same, whether the recipient happened to be a government or an NGO/civil society. Even political parties may have received substantial funds, over the years, though parliament, Election Department/Election Commission and polls monitoring groups never bothered to inquire into allegations. Instead, they focus on ‘minor’ matters. Complaining about displaying of posters and banners seems ridiculous in a country where those rejected by the electorate are routinely accommodated, in parliament, through the back door – the respective National Lists of political parties.

A section of the international media recently reported how Canada spent over Canadian Dollars 2 mn in its failed and humiliating bid to secure one of the rotating slots in the UN Security Council. Norway and Ireland obtained the required two-thirds of vote. Documents secured by CBC News, in terms of Access to Information law, revealed how Canada lavishly spent taxpayers’ money to win a place among group of 10 elected on a rotating basis at the Security Council. Five are permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Canada lost two previous bids, in 1946 and 2010. The media reported Canada spent a staggering USD 10 mn in its last successful bid in 1998. Who benefited from Canada’s generosity? 

 President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government refrained from voting for Norway, Canada or Ireland. The decision not to vote for Norway and Canada reflected the incumbent government’s disapproval of the stand taken by them as regards the accountability issue. It would be pertinent to mention that foreign powers respond to a particular situation as part of their overall efforts to appease the electorate. Large groups of voters, especially of Sri Lankan Tamil origin and their extended families influence Western powers. Canada is a case in point. Over a decade after the successful conclusion of the war, some Canadian politicians continue to play ball with those who had backed the macabre LTTE separatist project.

A failed civil society project

During the war, foreign powers pumped massive amounts of money, through various civil society groups/NGOs as part of their efforts to discourage Sri Lanka from seeking a battlefield victory. The operation was meant to influence successive governments, and the electorate by way of costly projects undertaken with foreign funding. Such projects continued, even after the eradication of the LTTE’s conventional military power. The civil society was given access even to the military. The civil society was accommodated in the Government delegation to Geneva Human Rights Council sessions.

"Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)" released in Sept. 2011 revealed the extent of the Norwegian operation here. Of NOK 2.5 bn spent here, during the 1997-2009 period, NOK 100 mn had been allocated in support of the peace process, including the Norway-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission and Peace Secretariats of the government and the LTTE. Substantial funds were made available to the NPC, the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) and the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). In addition to them, the then darling of the Norwegians, Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe’s two groups, namely the Foundation for Co-existence, and the National Anti-War Front, received a significant amount of Norwegian funding. There had been several other projects by FLICT (Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation) and One-Text initiative. Foreign donors went to the extent of providing funding to the LTTE by way of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO). The Norwegian report revealed allocation of NOK 210 mn (USS 28 mn) to NGOs et al between 2001 and 2004 in support of the high profile peace project. According to the report, of that amount, NOK 200 mn had been shared by 10 NGOs, with Dr. Rupesinghe’s Foundation for Co-existence receiving the lion’s share (NOK 35 mn or USD 6 mn).

The report identified Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US, as other major donors.

Norway revealed the exact amount allocated to Dr. Rupesinghe in the wake of them clashing over what the NGO guru claimed was the failure on the part of the sponsor to honour the agreement between them. The NGO project went awry primarily, due to the LTTE's mistaken belief that the armed forces could be defeated in a conventional conflict. The NGO project couldn’t convince the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government that the LTTE was invincible. Once the LTTE resumed large scale hostilities, in August 2006, the government launched a combined offensive of its own. Sri Lanka sustained the offensive until ground forces cornered the LTTE leadership, on the Vanni east front.

Absence of efficient mechanism to

monitor foreign funding

Sri Lanka lacked a proper mechanism to keep track of foreign funding. In spite of Sri Lanka civil society/NGO sector being a major recipient of foreign funding, the country is yet to put in place an efficient system to monitor foreign funding. In the absence of such a system, various interested parties exploited situations to receive funding. Those who bitterly complain about the military assigned specific targets in support of civil administration, appreciate the civil society/NGO role. They cleverly exploit shortcomings on the part of successive governments to pursue strategies, sometimes inimical to the country. The NGO community is good at what it does. It benefits from the failures of those elected governments. That is the unpalatable truth.

Sri Lanka never bothered to examine the US State Department declaration that funds to the tune of US 585 mn were spent on restoring democracy in Myanmar, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, in 2014/2015.  Sri Lanka also ignored the revelation that US funding had been made available between the 2015 January presidential poll and the 2015 August parliamentary polls. There had been a number of other projects, including funding three-year programme worth USD 13 mn(Rs 1.92 bn) as well as funding provided to the Election Commission (EC).

One-time Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, recently questioned criticism of his decision to seek Diaspora funding in support of the Thamizhi Makkal Tesiya Kootani or the Tamil People’s National Alliance (TPNA), in the run-up to the August 5, 2020 parliamentary polls. Addressing the media, at the Jaffna Press Club, on June 23, 2020, the retired Supreme Court judge justified his call for Diaspora funding on the basis major political parties and politicians in the South received plenty of funding from various sponsors. Wigneswaran underscored his right to secure funding from sponsors overseas.

Sri Lanka should, without further delay, establish a mechanism capable of monitoring funds received by various organizations and individuals. During the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) proceedings, in respect of the Easter Sunday attacks, the then Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy revealed how parliament weakened its regulatory powers by way of the Finance Act 2017. The shocking revelation was made on July 26, 2019. Dr. Coomaraswamy didn’t mince his words when he declared that the then government didn’t even bother to consult the Central Bank on the matter. Dr. Coomaraswamy set the record straight as regards the Finance Act of 2017, after the PSC member and the then Power, Energy and Business Development Minister, Ravi Karunanayake, challenged CBSL condemnation of the Finance Act during investigations into the controversial Batticaloa Campus Limited and the Heera Foundation had received funds from Saudi Arabia on seven and 15 occasions, respectively.

A failed Parliament

Have you ever heard of a parliament deliberately weakening regulatory powers and the privileged status enjoyed by its Central Bank? Having perpetrated massive Treasury bond scams, in Feb 2015 and March 2016, what else the public could expect from those who had the majority in parliament. Recently, Defence Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne talked in disparaging terms of Prisons Department employees accused of serving the underworld. The war veteran urged them not to spend heroin dealers’ money on their families. Perhaps, that appeal should be made to lawmakers as well. Can anyone who represented the last parliament care to explain why the findings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on Treasury bond scams was, conveniently not taken up in parliament?

Taxpayers, including those struggling to make ends meet, fund political party system based costly administration. The administration consists of President, Parliament (225 members), Provincial Councils (455 members) and Local Government (8,600 members) and the judiciary.

The failure of successive administrations had paved the way for unhealthy interventions, both at domestic level and external. External powers interfere through administrations. They also use civil society and NGOs to influence the decision makers as well as the electorate. The media are routinely used and abused in politically motivated projects much to the detriment of the public and the well being of the country. The parliament, instead of being the institution to lead the country to the next level, allowed the rot to set in. The influence gained by civil society and the NGO circuit should be examined against the deterioration of parliament. So much so, one-time Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse PC admitted that the parliament was the most corrupt institution in the country. The former BASL Chief said so in response to a query raised by the writer at a press conference, addressed by him at the Sri Lanka Foundation, in the run up to the last presidential poll.

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Gampaha District candidate Ranjan Ramanayake, who had immensely contributed to the deterioration of the political party system, recently alleged that one of those lawmakers taking narcotics was dead now. Referring to a speech, he delivered in parliament and statement in Supreme Court???, former MP Ramanayake reiterated of the 100 lawmakers in the last parliament 100 had liquor licenses, 75 had permits for sand mining and transport, and some faced murder and narcotics charges. Of them, one is dead. "Now don’t ask me for his name," Ramanayake said. Having stood solidly by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ramanayake switched his allegiance to the then UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa quite late in the leadership battle. Politics is certainly a ‘game’ for opportunists.