MELBOURNE: Most Malaysian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and grant recipients maintain high standards of transparency in relation to foreign funding, a report by a leading Australian think tank has found.
But the report also found that several foreign grant recipients such as the Third World Network, Consumers Association of Penang and Sahabat Alam Malaysia have “extremely low levels of transparency.”
The report by the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) executive director Dr Mike Nahan says that NGOs such as the Malaysian AIDS Council, Malaysian AIDS Foundation, the International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM), Wetlands International Asia Pacific, Asian-Pacific Resources and Research for Women, International Council on Management of Population Programmes and Malaysian universities have “very high levels of transparency”.
According to the Nahan report, the Consumers Association of Penang and Third World Network together combined received at least US$1.415mil (RM5.377mil) from US philanthropic foundations from 1998-2001.
Dr Nahan, who spent four years in Malaysia as a development economist in the late 1970s, said that during 1998-2001, some 30 Malaysian organisations received grants from US-based foundations worth in total US$4.9mil (RM18.62mil)
He told Bernama that he did not see anything wrong with foreign funding as long as it was transparent and the organisations accountable.
Dr Nahan said that the US government had strict laws relating to disclosure, which ensured that it was reasonably easy, though time-consuming, to chase down funding sources.
Even so, Dr Nahan said that his report did not lay claim to have found every cent coming out of the United States, but it did provide a useful set of data to analyse.
The bulk of US foundation funding to Malaysian organisations was directed at what Dr Nahan classified as political causes.
“Of the causes funded, environmentalism and population control accounted for almost half of all funding,” he said.
Another interesting finding of the research was that about 38% of total US funding went to purposes, which the Nahan report described as anti-development, in that they were funding campaigns against the building of dams or the creation of a biotechnology industry.
Dr Nahan said that the IPA research was part of a larger ongoing project to map out the activities of civil society in the Asia-Pacific region.
“As an NGO and member of civil society ourselves, I believe that it is essential that civil society focus on improving its own transparency and accountability in its own sector if it is to realise its true potential,” he said.
When contacted Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) vice-president and Third World Network legal adviser Mohideen Abdul Kader said investigations would be carried out to determine the status, orientation and motive of IPA.
He said the organisation could be linked to the biotech industry, which CAP, Third World Network and SAM had strongly criticised for the various negativities linked to genetic engineering.
“It could be trying to divert our criticism by tarnishing our reputation instead of meeting our argument as well as criticism,'' he said.
Mohideen said that another Australian-based group had made similar allegations.