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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2404

NGOs selling the nation and their souls to foreigners

H. L. D. Mahindapala reviews Dr. Susantha Goonatilake's scholarly guide to the hidden politics of NGOs in Sri Lanka

In an incredible twist of events, leading members of the Sri Lankan civil society went all out to suppress the publication of Dr. Susantha Goonatilake's book Recolonisation, Foreign Funded NGOs in Sri Lanka without even sighting or reading the contents. They jointly petitioned SAGE, India's outstanding publishers of academic titles, shortly after they read a pre-publication advertisement in SAGE's catalogue. That brief ad was enough for the members of "the civil society"(they are inseparable from NGOs) who are supposed to be the champions of freedom, liberty, democracy, to launch a concerted campaign to suppress Dr. Goonatilake's book.

Kumari Jayawardena, a civil society activist from the Colombo University, Kumar Rupesinghe, a top NGO mudalali who refused to reveal his dollar income in public, Jayadeva Uyangoda who theorises on dividing Sri Lanka and the rest of the world into micro states based on his half-baked, pseudo-Marxist political science, are some of the signatories who had no qualms in suppressing the publication of a book that exposed their uncivil society. Rupesinghe even threatened to take legal action if the book was published. To gang up against a fellow-academic simply because the book was not to their liking reveals, among other things, the depth of moral corruption in Sri Lankan civil society.

Dr. Goonatilake's book is about the corrupt and politicized NGOs (this term is interchangeable with “civil society”), their proclaimed principles and goals. It is, therefore, predictable that the academics who thrive on NGO funding should resent its publication. Mark you, this is the same mob that cries out for freedom of expression, freedom of association and all that stuff if the politicians even touches a comma in their publications. But when it comes to their personal and professional interests they react like any other corrupt politician fighting tooth and nail to hide the smelly private deals which the not-so-civil society condemns in public when others do it.

To the credit of SAGE it must be said that the crypto-fascists of Sri Lankan academia failed to frighten the Indian publishers into submission. The courage of SAGE should be commended because the NGO mudalalis had even prevailed on some local newspapers not to run reviews of the book.

Reading Dr. Goonatilake's book will give an insight as to why the NGO-dependent academics came out firing on all cylinders against the book. With the trained eye of a meticulous research scholar he has exposed the fat NGO maggots feasting on the bleeding wounds of the nation. No wonder the NGOs were hell bent on suppressing the book.

The community backlash and the declining credibility of politicized NGOs have reduced the image of civil society figures to that of unconscionable petty vendors selling their souls and bodies to the highest foreign bidders. In the romantic phrase of the late Regi Siriwardena, a permanent resident of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), the NGOs are the “thatched patios”, fully air-conditioned, for trading their wares. As the NGOs grew in wealth and influence they became lucrative sources of funding their private pleasures (including subsidizing expensive life styles and family trips abroad), professional career paths, self-promoting advertisements, etc. The unscrupulous academics who jumped into this bandwagon too discovered that they could line their pockets with dollars if they danced to the tune of the NGO drummers. The NGOs and academics formed an unholy alliance to sell the nation for a fistful of dollars.

Though they talk of transparency and accountability they are most reluctant to come out into the open and inform the public how much extra money they earn by servicing the foreign-funded NGOs. For instance, it would expose the hidden angle of Rohan Edrisinghe of the Law Faculty of Colombo University if he reveals how much he pockets monthly from being a director at the Centre for Policy Alternative – the pro-Tamil, anti-Sinhala-Buddhist NGO sympathetic to separatism in one form or another. Declarations of foreign funding are essential for the public to assess the independence and the objectivity of the opinions farmed out by academics who are on hire for international agencies denigrating national history, culture and politics.

Foreign agencies are quite eager to fund our academics who are willing to write on their behalf. Prof. Carlo Fonseka was funded by Kumari Jayawardena’s husband, Lal Jayawardena for writing six rehashed essays on Sri Lankan history for undergraduates. It is estimated he was paid Rs. 13 million when Lal Jayawardena was the head of World Institute for Development and Research (WIDER). What has not been revealed so far is the sum of money paid by WIDER to Prof. S. Tambiah of Harvard University for writing his anti-Sinhala-Buddhist book, Buddhism Betrayed?

But academics allied to NGOs are very backward in coming forward with their hidden sources of income. To the funding agencies abroad local academics are cheap sources of labour to get their research done. Their anti-national politics, corrupt practices, and nefarious activities, ranging from nepotism to recruiting women workers in NGOs for porn films, have blackened their image beyond repair.

All this is fairly known among the public. But no one has made an analytical study of the ideological perversities, the corruption, Faustian sale of souls for mercenary gains, the slavish mentality, and the hypocritical cesspit in which the civil society wallows. Dr. Goonatilake probes methodically and systematically some of the key personalities and their machinations to delineate an overview of the civil society which has fallen into abysmal disrepute. The rich corroborating details and the theoretical underpinnings make his book not only an outstanding work of scholarship but an indispensable guide to understand the behind-the-scene politics of our time.

The title Recolonisation, Foreign Funded NGOs in Sri Lanka says it all. Hidden beneath the advertised image of being do-gooders is the hand of foreign powers who use NGOs as agents to push their political agenda in less developed countries dependent on foreign aid. One of the most authoritative sources that confirmed the necessity and utility of NGOs to foreign powers is Thomas Pickering, America's former Ambassador to the UN. He said: "Many of these (NGO) organizations will have soft power of their own as they attract citizens into coalitions that ignore national boundaries. NGOs are a huge and important force. In many issues of American policy, from human rights to the environment, NGOs are in fact the driving force." - (The Paradox of American Power, Joseph S. Nye, Jr, - p.xiii, Oxford University Press,2002.)

Of course, local NGO agents would be shy to admit that they are hired agents of foreign powers. Jehan (Pacha) Perera and Poi-kiya-sothy Saravanamuttu are only two of the NGO poseurs who pretend that they are independent voices distilling pure intellect with the sole altruistic motive of providing alternative policies and panaceas to the natives. But Ambassador Pickering has put them in their place and told them bluntly that they are nothing but paid agents of the manipulative foreign forces using them as cheap labour to promote and protect Big Brother's interests abroad.

Example: Jehan Perera is financed heavily by Norway. When the World Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka (WAPS) – an international expatriate organisation -- took the battle against Norway’s partisan role to Oslo Perera gratuitously told the Norwegian media that the participants of the WAPS conference were "extremists". When asked to name a single extremist among the participants he discovered that he had lost his tongue. In other words, he was singing for his supper supplied by his Norwegian paymasters.

Way back in the seventies Latin American scholars were alarmed by the questionable methodologies and end uses of foreign funded research workers digging up material for their Ph. D theses, or for the military-industrial complex, or multi-national corporations. In Sri Lanka Dr. Goonatilake has been in the forefront of this independent school of social scientists with a conscience. He has played a lead role in exposing the NGO "coalitions that ignore national boundaries." His book Recolonisation is a penetrating study that goes deep into the ideological, theoretical and political distortions and manipulations of academics and the so-called research workers hired by NGOs.

The revelations in his book are startling. The role of these non-state actors to hijack the national agenda to serve foreign agencies needs to be investigated by a high-powered commission of inquiry. Of course, the NGO hacks who pontificate on everything under the sun and probe practically everybody else's affairs will put up a stiff resistance. But the evidence revealed in this book is alarming and confirms the urgent necessity to appoint a new commission of inquiry with full powers to summon and examine all documents and transactions of NGOs if the politics and the social fabric of Sri Lanka are to be rid of neo-colonialism creeping in through the foreign-funded NGOs.

Though they talk glibly of transparency and accountability they will be the first to sabotage any investigations that would expose their wheeler-dealer transactions and self-serving political agendas. When, for instance, mild-mannered Justice Wanasundera was on the verge of delivering adverse reports on NGO they manipulated naïve President D. B. Wijetunga to suppress the findings. If the members of the civil society are genuinely interested in setting public standards of probity and moral rectitude they must begin be opening closets for public scrutiny. If accountability and transparency are two key criteria set for others why should they be exempt unless they have something to hide?

Besides, Dr. Goonatilake's book reveals that NGOs have snaked their way into the centre stage of national politics, interfering in every walk of life to undermine sovereignty, territorial integrity and even the defence forces. They have huge foreign-funded resources to buy up personnel in the armed forces, Buddhist monks, academics, professionals, bureaucrats, journalists (on New Year's eve one newspaper mirrored a lengthy column showering praise on Jehan (Pacha) Perera and Poi-kiya-sothy Saravanamuttu as great contributors to national peace!

In an unerring description he labels the manipulations and the activities of the politicized NGOs as Recolonisation. This sets the theme and the parameters of the book. In the pioneering days of colonialism the white man came across the seas using the Chinese compass to find their way into Afro-Asia. They used the Chinese gun powder to conquer the ancient civilizations and used the Chinese printing methods colonize the minds. After the white man plundered the resources of the natives and went back home they didn't give up their agenda of exploiting their ex-colonies. Neo-colonialism returned to re-colonize the natives by hiring local agents to carry the agenda of the white man.

In other words, colonialism remains intact. Only the methodology has changed. In the days when the sun never set on the colonial empires the white man brought Christian missionaries with them to cleanse the native minds of their impurities and sins. They succeeded partly by leaving behind little colonies of Westernised epigones who imitated the white man to the last hole in golf. But that was not powerful enough for them to exert influence and pressure the political actors of the post-colonial phase. They needed the "soft power" to push their agenda beyond "national borders".

What better and cheap sources of labour can they find than the local intellectuals paid in foreign currency! Civil servants like Godfrey Goonetilleke and Charles Abeysekera (who left the Civil Service after the workers in the state corporation he headed went on strike alleging corruption) became the brown sahibs of neo-colonialism ever willing to be the hired lackeys of foreign agendas.

Another prominent public servant who parked himself comfortably in the NGOs is Bradman Weerakoon. When his last posting as batman to Ranil Wickremesinghe ended he rushed back to International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) - a dollar-loaded NGO headed by Neelan Tiruchelvam who was also the political ideologue and a card-carrying MP of the Tamil National Alliance.(TNA). Well, one does not have to be a rocket scientists to guess what inspires the political thinking of Badman (oops, I missed the 'r'!) Weerakoon if his pay cheques come from the ICES allied to the TNA, eh?
To be continued

- Asian Tribune -

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