Paymasters and Godfathers of Centres for Poisonous Accusations - 14th February 2008

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The last couple of weeks have seen much verbiage expended over what might be termed the ICES issue, with a predictable range of skilled polemicists rushing to the defence of Dr Rama Mani, the once and future head of the Colombo branch of that once august institution. Her defenders have clearly followed the time honoured technique of obfuscating issues, by attributing nasty motives, and making dramatic claims as loudly as possible in an effort to convince the world that what they say is true. In the process they have completely ignored the facts.

I have long believed that you can judge the character of people from the allegations they make against others. It is in this light that we need to see the assertion by Bradman Weerakoon that ‘some people can be unreasonable and vicious. It’s like a village feud where you have a problem with someone and you poison his well or something.’ Characteristically, his whole interview is replete with snide allegations against Pradeep Jeganathan, who was appointed to look after ICES when Dr Mani was dismissed.

Interestingly Dr Saravanamuttu, who has now rushed in to comment on what he sees as a urge to ‘rid our pure paradise isle of alternative perspectives to the militaristic, majoritarian Chinthanaya’, was under the impression that it was the opposition to Dr Mani who had first politicized the issue. The sanctimoniousness with which he criticized this when he discussed her case with me did not seem feigned, though he soon enough remembered that initially the matter had been raised in the ‘Daily Mirror’ on January 26th, before the Nation expose. That first article had quoted ‘An ICES board member’ (obviously Bradman Weerakoon) who claimed that ‘ICES staff were supportive of the former Executive Director and were now under pressure following her removal, which he alleged was done with the purpose of making a ‘favoured’ appointment in her place.’

Not entirely coincidentally, Bradman Weerakoon, himself appointed to look after ICES by the time his interview appeared, spearheaded a move to close the office down to protest at Dr Mani’s expulsion. A petition from a member of staff to the Prime Minister on this matter indicated however the bullying that was done, so as to show the solidarity with Dr Mani that he had reported to the ‘Daily Mirror’.

Before the ‘Daily Mirror’ reported on ICES however, there had been an even more emotive story in a website called ‘Lanka Dissent’, claiming that a raid on Dr Mani’s house had been stopped by interventions by the Indian High Commission, calling up both the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry. This had not happened, and the Indian High Commission made it clear that Dr Mani was not even an Indian national. She had indeed gone to the High Commission to make extravagant claims about the threats she was facing, but this like the reporting is indicative of a desire to create a wedge between India and Sri Lanka.

That interpretation seems the more likely inasmuch as the driving force behind Lanka Dissent is Ruwan Ferdinands, the National Organizer of the SLFP dissident group. It is no coincidence obviously that the initial leakages regarding ICES were to this individual’s website and to the ‘Daily Mirror’, the editor of which was in the forefront of the campaign to denigrate the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, a campaign that took in even the hyper-enthusiastic British High Commissioner, Dominick Chilcott.

Dr Saravanamuttu seems to have swallowed wholesale the assumption that the initial problems of ICES had to do with ‘the prize of institutional capture…a grubby power struggle’. The fact that for many months those who objected to cavalier and essentially illegal uses of money sought internal reform has evidently escaped his notice. That crude blackmail was used on some of them, along with vituperative name calling, would be dismissed by him as simple ‘incivility’, making no distinction between those at fault and those who tried to correct those faults, quietly at first until it became clear that the juggernaut would brook no dissent.

Having cursorily dismissed the initial problem, Dr Saravanamuttu then moves on to the main issue, which he describes as ‘the use of R2P to turn Dr Mani into a national security threat’. He claims that ‘ICES was to be associated with the R2P Centre to be established in New York’ and refers to ‘Dr Mani’s interest in associating her institution with R2P’. He never mentions that the association had in fact occurred, on the basis of Dr Mani’s agreement to the proposal from Gareth Evans, an agreement given fraudulently on behalf of the ICES Board when she invited Evans to Sri Lanka to make what she described as much needed waves. Far from R2P being about other countries, as she disingenuously put it in an interview, she talks of ‘confronting governments and supporting the international community and R2P advocates with hard evidence from the ground’.

When Dr Saravanamuttu claims that ‘Hard evidence of this has not been made public’ he fails to make clear what ‘this’ is, a not untypical instance of a prose style that privileges platitudes over precision (if I might make bold to caricature the splendid parade of ‘p’ she perennially practices, doubtless justifying Dr Mani’s characterization of him in Galle as the most eloquent of our wordsmiths). Instead of discussing the evidence, through an analysis of the material made available in the ‘Nation’ the previous week (the extract from Dr Mani’s e-mail to Gareth Evans which was reproduced there is appended here), he goes on to his favourite practice of berating the government, which he has long assumed is a monolith, dominated by an ideology he loathes.

Obviously, with eloquence such as Dr Saravanamuttu’s at its disposal, the campaigners for R2P, or even for a UN Monitoring Mission in Sri Lanka, may not actually have needed ICES. But the shifty way in which the operation was conducted, Bradman Weerakoon still being in denial about facts that Rama Mani’s own correspondence makes clear, suggests that the ICES link was considered important. Certainly the revelation by one of her lawyer associates, that $4 million dollars had been lost because of her removal makes clear the high stakes that were involved, as does the strange very strong-armed intervention of the Canadian High Commissioner. Advocacy that is already relentless would have become irresistible with over 400 million rupees to help build up capacity / inclination or whatever else the Global Centre wanted to promote R2P.

Towards the end of his mock philosophical insights, Dr Saravanamuttu comes to the point that he makes endlessly in all his articles, a point that underlies his own support for external intervention, namely that there is something wrong with the government. This time his assertion is that ‘We are being turned into a silly and vicious little country by silly and vicious little men. They are mean and dangerous and have no compunction in playing dirty.’ Evidently he does not mean Bradman Weerakoon, who used every trick in the book to keep Rama Mani on, beginning with the vicious denigration of ICES staff through his political associates in the press and trying to involve the Presidential Secretariat in his manoeuvers.

But how could Dr Saravanamuttu begin to criticize Bradman? Bradman was a founder Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, of which Dr Saravanamuttu has been Executive Director since its inception. Bradman resigned when he became Secretary to the Prime Minister in 2002 but went back on the Board in 2006. Sunil Bastian, who was appointed to look after ICES along with Bradman at the time Rama Mani was restored (but supposedly to go on leave) has also been a Director of CPA since its inception. Bastian, who used to act for Radhika Coomarasmamy in her absence when she was ICES Executive Director, and who was put on the ICES Board in 2005, resigned earlier this week, following the expose of ICES mismanagement, the burgeoning deficit that began in the days when, as Radhika put it, she signed whatever cheques were put in front of her by an incompetent Financial Controller.

All this is part of the system of interlocking directorates which receive massive funding from similar sources and all, accordingly or otherwise, dance to a similar tune. CPA, according to Dominick Chilcott, used to be one of the principal recipients of British peace building funding, along with the Foundation for Co-Existence (FCE). More recently, he said, CPA was replaced by an organization called Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation (FLICT). FLICT, it turns out, has provided massive amounts of funding to organizations which are in effect run by many of those who signed a petition on Rama Mani’s part or otherwise agitated for her restoration, viz

                               Young Asia Television       -14,452,280
                               (Sharmini Boyle)          30,179,185
                      Neelan Thiruchelvam Trust         - 9,500,000
                      (Sithie Thiruchelvam)              19,250,000
                      Theertha International Artists Collective          
                      (Anoli Perera)                  -  8,500,000      

                   National Peace Council (NPC)    - 3,024,644
                   Jehan Perera                         - 4,077,097
                   Social Scientists Association
                (Kumari Jayewardene / Sasanka Perera)      - 5,900,000
                 Women & Media Collective    
           (Kumudini Samuel / Sepali Kottegoda)         - 3,739,450
                          Foundation for Co-Existence   - 67,175
              (Kumar Rupesinghe/Sharmini Boyle)         -12,002,292
                        National Antiwar Front  -1,000,000
                       (Kumar Rupesinghe)                  100,000

Over 200 million rupees going to this conglomerate of like-minded interventionists is bad enough. It is worse that a couple of the signatories, Dilrukshi Fonseka and Mirak Raheem, sit on the FLICT Steering Committee, the latter working for CPA, the former being a former Berghof Foundation employee who is I believe married to Sanjana Hattotuwa who works for CPA.

Hattotuwa indeed gets his own distinct tranche of funding, to run his ‘first and award winning citizens journalism website’, set up in response to requests ‘from INGOs, humanitarian aid organizations including sections of the UN, CSOs, local and international journalists as well as members from the diaspora’. What these sections of the UN are it would be interesting to find out, given the pusillanimous acquiescence in LTTE authoritarianism that some elements in the UN displayed in the days when Groundviews was set up.

Who are the ‘Partners and Donors’ of Groundviews? Apart from CPA itself, we have IMPACS, ‘a Canadian charitable organization committed to the protection and expansion of democracy’, Infoshare, which is a ‘Non-profit technical support organization providing web media services and application development’ and CIDA and AUsAID, the Canadian and Australian aid agencies.

The former is ‘charged with planning and implementing most of Canada’s development cooperation program in order to reduce poverty and to contribute to a more secure, equitable and prosperous world’ while the objective of the Australian ‘aid program is to advance Australia’s national interest by helping developing countries reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development’.

Does providing funding for Groundviews truly advance these aims? Is it really the function of such aid agencies to encourage articles that talk about Sri Lanka as ‘a country at war and democracy that’s hostage to the whim and fancy of a President and his coterie of murderous brutes’? Does it advance Australian national interests to propagate articles that characterize Indian support for the APRC proposals as ‘almost a case of Panglossian benevolence…Underpinning this is the containment of Chinese interests – political, military and commercial – in their back yard’? Will Canada achieve a ‘more secure, equitable and prosperous world’ through blanket generalizations about the ‘increasingly jingoistic rhetoric of ruling party politicians, bureaucrats and military top brass’?

It could be argued that debate and discussion are important, and certainly there must be room for dissenting views. But such relentless criticism of an elected government, the determination to denigrate, exemplified most recently by the assumption of ‘extraordinary influence of the JHU and the JVP in the Rajapakse administration’ even though the JVP has come out strongly against the APRC proposals, the extraordinary levels of funding provided to just a small coterie of self-important panjandrums, suggest that many issues have been prejudged without sufficient flexibility to deal with new evidence as it emerges.

In this context one can only contrast the approach of the Norwegian ambassador, which suggests why, despite earlier worries, the government is correct in continuing with the services of the Norwegians as facilitators. Norway provided the LTTE Peace Secretariat with a great deal of assistance, but this was with the approval of the Sri Lankan government of the time. When that Peace Secretariat began to glorify sucide bombers, the Norwegian ambassador promptly contacted them to suggest that the celebratory photographs be withdrawn. He was doubtless polite, and the LTTE did not respond positively, but the moral point had been made. In contrast UNDP, which had also, as initiated by Bradman, funded that Peace Secretariat and in particular its communications systems, stayed meekly silent.

Though Groundviews talks about repression and censorship in Sri Lanka, the government has no problems about it attacking what it is privileged to call the President’s ‘coterie of murderous brutes’. That can be countenanced as exemplifying freedom of expression. But it is outrageous that such freedom should be financed by the taxes of Australian and Canadian citizens, who are told that their money is used to alleviate poverty. And it is sad that those who administer such aid programmes continue to fund this family of self-supporting dissidents, whose rent-seeking becomes ever more successful the more relentless their recriminations are.


Mani’s e-mail to Evans about affiliating to the Global Protection Centre

(Dr Mani has claimed that ‘there has been a decision by GCR2P to suspend or terminate its relationship with ICES until further notice…..There never was any file on paper on r2p and this was not taken out of the office at any time’. If this means there was only e-mail correspondence, it is at the very least suspicious that this correspondence was not shared with the Board of ICES, and has not been made public since. Indeed the correspondence regarding the suspension / termination also seems to have been confidential)

9 July 2007 Hon. Gareth Evans President International Crisis Group Brussels

23/1 7.17 pm

Dear Gareth,

It is always a delight and an inspiration to see and hear you in action - I am looking forward eagerly, as is much of Colombo, to your imminent visit, which, I have no doubt, will create (much needed) waves.

I have read your proposal for the Global Centre with great interest and shared it with my colleagues at ICES. The proposal is excellent, powerfully argued and brilliantly spelt out. It proposes to do exactly what is imperative now to ensure that the sustained momentum through which you and other visionary individuals and governments managed to obtain R2P at the UN 60th isn’t now dissipated. We must now move towards implementation through a considered process. … we would be honoured and delighted to accept your offer that we join you as a Southern associated centre.

This would also be fully in keeping with ICES’s traditions and expertise….our ‘Justice and the Struggle for Peace Programme’ has prioritised as one of its three key objectives, supporting the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect. So you can see that we are well placed to partner with you and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

A very important element for implementing R2P will be confronting governments and supporting the international community and R2P advocates with hard evidence from the ground, and analysis of the perspectives, views held about R2P by affected vulnerable populations and by ordinary citizens.

As you rightly pointed out in your cover note to me, we would need to look into the resource implications, and procure some basic funding to ensure that we can support the Global Centre as a Southern Associate Centre. I did not notice on the attached budget a separate entry for financial and material support to the Southern Associate Centres. Did I miss this?

Kindly let us know as soon as you can what you would see as the prospects for financial and material assistance to the southern centres. Also, let us know asap whether you need us to supply some basic figures and budgets for what we might need - and what you would expect exactly from the southern centres -- and a ball park figure of what you think would be a reasonable figure that the main donors supporting the Global Centre might accept – so that we could draw up a budget accordingly. If you are able to go ahead and pitch for financial support for the southern centres, without such a detailed budget from us at this point, please do so and we can work out figures subsequently.

Basically, R2P is an idea that both ICES institutionally and I personally, deeply support. We would be honoured to be associated with the Global Centre. To the extent that your resources and fundraising efforts allow, we will do whatever we can within our wide areas of expertise but our very modest resources and capacities to ensure that we can move R2P forward towards implementation. .. We look forward very much to collaborating with you in this exciting and important new venture.

With my warmest personal regards,