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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, July 11, 2005

The moral, political and financial corruption in NGOs - an early reply to Mr. S. Hattotuwa

Asia Tribune: "Date : 2005-07-07, by H. L. D. Mahindapala

Readers who have followed the exchange of correspondence between Mr. S. Hatotuwa and myself on NGOs in Sri Lanka in the Asian Tribune will not cavil, if I give 100 marks to him for dodging the issues raised by me in the debate. He also deserves 100 marks for copying by hand and reproducing selected texts from NGO manuals in his latest response published in yesterday’s Asian Tribune. He pats himself on the back for repeating paragraphs from his master’s voice in the Centre for Policy Alternative (CPA), or from NGO guidelines as if he has revealed another divine message rivalling that of Moses or Jesus.

The ground rules of any healthy debate require some intelligent rebuttals of the arguments presented by the opposing side. He has avoided all the salient issues in the debate except the one where I requested him to define a “civil society” and an NGO – two instrumentalities sharing common issues in global society. In the upper reaches are AI, Green Peace etc., who would not hesitate to take on multinationals, states and fascist dictators whose self-serving politics and interests collide with the benign goals of open, liberal and pluralistic societies. At the lower levels are the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), (Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu), Sarvodaya (A. T. Ariyaratne), MARGA,(Godfrey Goontilleke), ICES (Radhika Coomaraswamy) etc., all of which prefer to “pussyfoot” around the enemies of open society. They have a record of exploiting the misery of the people – particularly our war-weary people -- to boost their image, their egos, and their role as behind-the -throne power-brokers to re-structure societies according to their theoretical assumptions.

Like Mr. Hattotuwa, an obedient acolyte of his master in CPA, they have not deviated from the political agenda outlined by the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK)/Tamil State Party launched in 1949 by the separatist leader S. J. V. Chelvanayakam. A study of their political agenda will substantiate that these NGOs had gone along with the escalating demands stepped up incrementally by the separatist movement of the ITAK/Tamil State Party. First they backed the so-called “Tamil grievances” and then, when their “grievances” were addressed, they jumped into the next stage of “Tamil aspirations” (read separatism). Any objective study of the NGO politics will confirm that NGOlogists had marched consistently in step with the mono-ethnic agenda of the Tamil extremism of the northern peninsula. There is neither an ideological nor a rational balance in opting for the political agenda of the northern hegemonists. The logical extension of their commitment for the racist extremism of the northern Tamils alone would force them to reject the rightful aspirations of other ethnic groups. NGOlogists have yet to explain why in a multicultural society the political “aspirations” of only one armed group should be appeased denying the rights of other multi-ethnic groups. Mr. Hattotuwa responded with a deafening silence when this issue was raised earlier.

The NGOlogists talk glibly of pluralism, multiculturalism, democracy, liberalism but the main thrust of their political programmes have gone along with mono-ethnic, mono-cultural, anti-democratic, anti-liberal fascism of one–man rule in the Vanni. A leading spokesperson of this NGO movement is Jayadeva Uyangoda, a pseudo-theoretician aligned actively to fascist movements in Sri Lanka. One of the highpoints of his career was to join the delegation led by Bishop Kenneth Fernando in the 1990s that met Velupillai Prabhakaran. They returned to Colombo elated with the news that they had discovered a “humane” leader in the Vanni – Velupillai Prabhakaran, a political criminal wanted by Interpol, India, Sri Lanka, banned by the international community, and hated by most Sri Lankans, including the Tamils of the east and north!

Then there is Jehan Perera, the side-kick of Sarvodaya’s Ariyaratne, who writes naively that Prabhakaran’s administration has turned democratic because he was given permission to run a workshop in the Vanni. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu of CPA is another NGOlogist who harps gleefully on the army desertions without a commensurate reference to the war crimes of Prabhakaran abducting Tamil children from Tamil parents to beef up the depleted cadres of the LTTE. All three of them emphasize the need for the LTTE to maintain a “military balance” as a bargaining chip – a military capability which, they know, is being used to subvert and suppress the values they espouse in their seminars, workshops and lecture circuits.

As opposed to Sri Lankan NGOs the leading activists in the global civil society have notched up some astounding successes. Those leading the anti-capitalist movement have 1) challenged and debated with George Soros, the man who was accused of causing the Asian meltdown, and Bjorn Edlund, head of corporate communications for ABB Ltd., the Swiss-based engineering giant, 2) succeeded in imposing international treaties, 3) challenged the exorbitant pricing schemes of pharmaceutical giants, 4) organised confrontational demonstrations against globalisation that led to the first martyr of the anti-capitalist movement, Carlo Giuliani, who was shot dead by the Italian Police, 5) transformed power structures, and 6) led death-defying campaigns in sea and land in protecting the environment (example: Green Peace) etc. Even as I write committed leaders of the civil society are demonstrating in Gleneagles in Scotland against the G-8 demanding a new economic order to serve needs of the exploited people of the Third World.

But what are the land mark achievements of the Sri Lankan NGOs, apart from ICES spending $250,000 to commemorate the death of Neelan Tiruchelvam? Take, for instance, their biggest environmental campaign against the construction of the Kandalama Hotel. Ariyaratne, Fr. Oswald Firth, the first Assistant General of the OMI's now residing in Rome, and other NGOs joined hands with the then opposition of Mrs. Bandaranaike and whipped up media hysteria and ran a massive campaign ostensibly against the construction of the Kandalama Hotel on environmental considerations. In reality it was a political campaign launched against President Premadasa who had authorized it. To cut a long story short, after it was built Kandalama was hailed as a remarkable environmental success story. It has been winning environmental awards in successive years exposing the humbuggery of bogus environmentalist like Ariyaratne and Fr. Firth. And Ariyaratne has been a frequent visitor to this “environmental hazard” which is now a popular resort to holiday makers.

It is mainly the lower-level NGOs that are tainted with the political, financial and moral corruption. A critical reading of the literature on global NGOs/CSOs will reveal that this is a common malaise of the do-gooders rushing to exploit the misery of disempowered in Third World. Those studying the global mushrooming of CSOs will find the following report from Addis Ababa resonating their fears and suspicions about NGOs. Here’s the concluding part of the report from the London Times’ correspondent Jonathan Clayton which was published yesterday: “The shabby streets of the (Ethiopian) capital, Addis Ababa, are dotted with billboards of non-government organizations and aid groups from the Christian Right to liberal Left dealing with everything from adoption to female genital mutilation to vaccination.

“Ethiopia has a cachet among aid workers,” one insider said. The country is a particular favorite among young Western idealists keen for field experience.

At night the car parks of trendy bars and fancy restaurants -- opened by yuppie Ethiopians returning from abroad with money – are packed with duty-free 4x4 vehicles. Inside lively debate take place.

One issue, though rarely has a hearing in this politically correct world: why doesn’t it work? Why is it that after an estimated trillion dollars of aid to Africa over the past four decades, average per capita income across most of the continent is, according to the World Bank, lower than at the end of 1990s?

Some of that answer lies in the aid business itself. One report recently estimated that about 70 per cent of all money raised went on NGOs administration – cars, salaries, equipment and the all-important workshops and seminars.” (July 5, 2005)

Easily, Addis Ababa could be mistaken for Colombo with some minor alterations. Go around the country side you will find billboards of A. T. Ariyaratne’s Sarvodaya whistling in the winds of villages. I am told that he pays a retainer for advertising his billboards. I’ve seen heads of NGOs, supposed to be working for the poor, dining and wining in 5-star hotels. The newspapers reported sometime earlier that the people threw stones at an NGO workshop on poverty conducted in the plush premises of a 5-star hotel in the south. The workshops and seminars in the closed circuit of NGOs, where ideological Tweedledums and Tweedledees scratch each others backs, indulge in gabfests recycling their theoretical mantras that have never brought relief or hope to the war-weary people of Sri Lanka. There is a simple reason for it: unlike leading NGO activist abroad the local minions dare not collectively challenge the fascist dictator obstructing peace and communal harmony. On the contrary, they are happy to go along with him manufacturing theoretical justifications for his authoritarian rule.

Their open agenda has been to strengthen the hand of Prabhakaran at the expense of all other communities. The bulk of their seminar workshops and other writings and lectures have been to demonize only the Sri Lankan state and the Sinhala-Buddhist constituency. Apart from occasional asides in passing, written mainly to cover their backs and not as a confirmed policy of defending democratic and humanitarian values, they have studiously avoided commenting adversely on the fascist rule of Prabhakaran. There is no constant barrage to target violations of human rights, war crimes or crimes against humanity committed by Prabhakaran. There is consistency only in the attacks against the state but not against the Vanni villainy. In Sri Lanka the NGOs are brave in attacking the weak state but cowardly in taking on the brutal and vindictive dictatorship of the north.

If the process was reversed the NGOlogists would have advanced peace and stability and all their values long time ago. This casts doubts as to whether they cherish their values at all. Their obsession is to the change the south for the north to take advantage of it to establish a mono-ethnic enclave. In their political agenda they consider it a necessity to change the constitutional, political and administrative framework of the nation so that only one minority community in the north can establish their hegemony over the other communities. The Cease Fire Agreement and the P-TOMS have proved that the NGOs would sacrifice the interests of all communities for the gains of only the fascist hegemonists of the north.Their main argument is that concessions made to the northern dictatorship would bring peace. But where is the peace that the NGOlogists promised at the beginning of each round of negotiations? The more they concede invoking peace the more they arm the LTTE to escalate their brutalities and threats of war. Readers can be sure that the NGOlogists will front up to argue for the ISGA set of demands saying that peace will come after the next round of concessions. They know for sure that the LTTE is not committed to grant peace to the nation until they realize their goals. Even after that it is doubtful because the north and the south will be fighting over the Line of Control a la India and Pakistan. So whom are the NGOlogists fooling? Not the LTTE because they know that the NGOs are batting for them. The NGOs are playing the game of the LTTE to fool the public. The first fundamental flaw that has brought disrepute to NGOs is in raising false hopes of peace with promises they know that will never materialize. The second is their one-sided policy of promoting mono-ethnic extremism, denying the other communities their right to co-exist in a state shared commonly by all communities. Mr. Hattotuwa loyally subscribes to these ideological fantasies constructed to sustain and advance the fascism of Prabhakaran who has written the darkest chapter of Sri Lankan history with the blood of innocent Tamil children. Once again Mr. Hattotuwa remained silent when I asked whether he and his boss would indict Prabhakaran in an international court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

If the NGOs are to regain their lost dignity and credibility then they must begin by rejecting their ideological fantasies that peace, stability and justice will dawn only if one fascist group is given the right to establish and rule a mono-ethnic enclave according to the whims and fancies of one man. There is a rising revolt even within the ranks of the eastern and northern Tamils against the hegemony of Tamil fascism. The mono-ethnic extremism advocated by the NGOlogists is running into a disastrous phase with the Muslims of the east resisting attempts to make them oppressed subjects of the northern hegemonists. When these central issues bedevilling the peace process are raised Mr. Hattotuwa accuses me of failing to “constructively further a useful debate.” There is no point in harping on this allegation. I leave it to the readers to judge because I am sure they have a better appreciation as to who has contributed to the debate and who has not.

The mounting evidence that exposes the moral, political and financial corruption of NGOs undermines the foundations of their institutions. It is futile to sweep these corroding factors under the carpet. Mr. Hattotuwa, like his boss in CPA, Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, has no remedy for the ideological corruption that perverts their thinking. They are free-wheeling on the foreign funds and whatever reputation they had gained in the past. Slowly but steadily the tide of public opinion is turning against them. They have no one to blame except their own moral failure. They are as corrupt as the society in which they operate. This explains why NGOs have become the most commonly used four-letter word in Sri Lankan society.

It has come to a point where to belong to a Sri Lankan NGO/CSO is a) to sell your soul, b) to live off the fat of foreign funds, c) to pretend that you are superior because you can quote some Western ideological fad that is irrelevant to local crises caused by unrepentant political criminals, d) to justify and strengthen the hidden agenda of the political criminals whose existence is vital for the NGOlogists to raise their profile as peaceniks and attract foreign funds, e) to skip the ground realities and promote a self-serving political agenda of a bleeding crisis like the beggar who fears the healing of the wound that would put an end to his source of income, f) to enter into a symbiotic relationship with Velupillai Prabhakaran to live off each other, g) to lose your intellectual and moral independence, and last but not the least, h) to become an “yes-man” carrying the lighter for his master’s pipe.

Mr. Hattotuwa is an example of a typical NGO “yes” men who are trapped in their master’s intellectual chicanery. He tries to escape by mouthing generalities prepared by some NGO catechist. The easiest thing in any discourse is to regurgitate the cud chewed by some other cow. Mr. Hattotuwa seems to have passed with honours in this bovine habit. The political, moral and intellectual crises facing NGOs in Sri Lanka demands a calibre of NGO activists who can re-imagine their roles with a genuine commitment to address the aspirations of all communities and just not one armed group of political criminals. One of the unpardonable crimes committed by the NGOlogists (except UTHR (J)) is to give the silent nod of impunity for the LTTE to get away with violations of all known canons of human rights.

In the name of an elusive peace, which these NGOlogists know will never come under the one-man fascist rule in Vanni, they watch without blinking an eye, dissident Tamils being thrown to crocodiles in the Iranamadu tank for not paying homage to Velupillai Prabhakaran. In contrast, there is a commendable record of CSOs abroad leading campaigns to indict cruel dictators like Pinochet and Soeharto. When, for instance, will A. T. Ariyaratne and his side-kick Jehan Perera lead their million members (?) against Prabhakaran who has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity on a scale far worse than that of both Pinochet and Soeharto put together?

Recently, Ariyaratne transported in buses (funded by foreign donors, no doubt) a large crowd that assembled in the rain at the BMICH not to protest against the human rights violations of Prabhakaran but to impress upon the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other political players, including foreign diplomats, that he has considerable political muscle. This is a good example of how the so-called peace activists are misleading and exploiting the naïve people at home and abroad.

Ariyaratne is one of the best examples of an NGO mudalali who has risen from the rank of a Rs. 75 teacher in a Colombo school to become a rupee multi-millionaire. After he stepped into the NGO tracks his fortunes and that of his family have increased manifold. He cultivates the media and big names assiduously to use the press cuttings as evidence of his service to peace and development. He even exhibits some of the big names seated on his board as worthy curiosities to convince foreigners of his standing in the community. He also uses some of his people walking in a procession from Moratuwa to Panadura as peace marches that can send shivers down the spine of Prabhakaran. He takes videos of all these events and screens them abroad and for visitors to his Sarvodaya as proof of promoting peace and development. Above all, he has yet to answer satisfactorily the probing questions he ducked at the Presidential Commission that inquired into the shady deals of NGOs.

One of his close associate told me once that he has high hopes of using his NGO base to contest the presidential election and beat the incumbent. He has also ambitions of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. But he has to first beat his rivals like President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe – two secrets aspirants for the same prize. Ariyaratne is not the only skeleton in the NGO cupboard. Collectively they all give a bad name to the NGOs. Unless the government steps in to monitor and hold the NGOs accountable and transparent NGOs are not likely to self-regulate on a policy alternative to clean up the NGO stables. If no action is initiated to rein in the NGOs the Ariyaratnes will trade on their NGO label with impunity like Prabhakaran.

It must be said that Mr. Hattotuwa admits the need to address the NGO issues raised by me. Here are his own words: “Interlocutors such as Mr. Mahindapala cannot be dismissed with a nonchalant sweep of one’s hand – the points he raises are valid, even if their applicability to all NGOs can be called to question. This article is also guided by a long standing belief that unless such introspection is undertaken as a continuous process of re-evaluating one’s activism and interventions in a given context, NGOs run the very real risk of developing a hubris that strengthens (and perhaps even corroborates) the allegations of those who are opposed to all such forms of intervention.”

He also concedes that “NGOs (are) entities that in Sri Lanka command the most attention / derision”He also comes with his own remedy: “…NGOs on the one hand (should) listen seriously to the issues that are laid out before them and that those who bring up these issues are also interested in genuinesicaddresal and engagement. As with any sustainable process, a culture of openness and reciprocity needs to be cultivated in order for the long term transformation of distrust into partnerships of cooperation for the larger ideals of nation-building.”

But saying this is not good enough. By his own admission he has a moral duty to practise what he preaches. He could begin by addressing the issues raised in this debate. He says that he writes “to map possible channels for constructive dialogue between NGOs and their detractors.” Well, here’s a suggestion that comes within his ambit for a dialogue with the NGO detractors. For a start, he can invite me for a TV debate and we can thrash out the issues for the Sri Lankan constituency to judge. I’ll gladly join if he can fix up a mutually convenient date, place and medium. I guess he can arrange for some foreign funds available at his master’s NGO to buy my air fare. If he can’t I am happy to buy my own ticket.

Finally, judging by the title of his text it seems that he has a problem with onanism. Whatever that problem may be, it seems that after laboriously transcribing of his master’s voice, word by word, and other NGO texts his hand has been overworked, leaving him to nurse a permanent pain in his wrist. Hope he would give his hand a rest and recover soon. I can then, with some luck, look forward to a response from him without dodging the issues!


Also Read:
* The onanism of the intellectual effete
* Portrait of an NGO “yes-man” – a late reply to Mr. S. Hattotuwa

- Asian Tribune -


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