For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Natioanl Peace council – Sri Lanka
In recent months there has been a systematic campaign in sections of the media to bring a few NGOs that work in the areas of human rights, governance, peace and reconciliation into public disrepute. At the core of these charges is the allegation that NGOs are accountable to no one but to themselves, do not have independent audits of their accounts and are not registered with the government. The National Peace Council (NPC) is one of the NGOs that have been singled out for this unfavourable commentary.
NPC was one of the first civic organisations to campaign for peaceful negotiations to end the war which became part of the then government’s strategy, and from time to time its views have been sought by the international community. NPC continues to affirm the need for a political solution to the ethnic conflict and for a reconciliation process between the communities and the government. Furthermore most, if not all projects, have an impact on political education and building civil society and social capital.
NPC is legally registered under two sets of laws; under the Voluntary Social Service Organisations Act and also the Companies Act as a Not-for-Profit Company. This means that it is accountable to two sets of government authorities, one being the NGO Secretariat and the other the Registrar of Companies. Due to the government’s concern about national security, the NGO Secretariat is today under the Defence Ministry, although in the past it was under the Social Services Ministry. NPC is required to file its financial statements, audited reports and work plans on a regular basis with these government departments.
When raising funds, NGOs also have to satisfy the donor agencies that they have a plan of action that merits support. They have to prepare project proposals and action plans with budgets. Significant changes in achieving targets or in spending need to be approved by the donor agency. Donor agencies frequently commission independent evaluators of NGOs they fund, as they in turn are accountable to their own tax payers and members who give them the funds. If donor agencies find that the organization they have supported has violated its promises, it is liable to be blacklisted.
Whatever the motives behind attacks on directed at NPC , we appeal to the media not to repeatedly publish critiques that contain false and misleading and mischievous allegations that NGOs such as NPC are not duly registered with the government, are not subject to audit and are misusing their funds. Some media commentators appear to believe that if a lie is repeated a sufficient number of times it will be believed by the general public. Whatever information the government has requested of NPC we have done our best to provide it in the shortest possible time.
We are also pleased to cooperate with the government and any other institution to create a more just society in which there is reconciliation and inter ethnic harmony.
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.