PETALING JAYA: Three Malaysian-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have lashed out at an Australian-based think tank’s report that they lack transparency and accountability over their funding sources from the United States.
S.M. Mohamed Idris, who is Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president and also Third World Network (TWN) chairman, condemned a report by the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) as “false, mischievous and misleading”.
In a press release yesterday, Mohamed Idris said CAP, SAM and TWN believed that IPA – which describes itself on its website as “Australia’s premier think tank for over 50 years” – was motivated by big industry and was trying to “stifle genuine public interest concerns”.
He said among IPA’s board of directors as posted on its website last year were representatives from Rio Tinto, Western Mining Corporation, Shell and Philip Morris.
“Even now, it is clear that the IPA is actually oriented towards industry interests. Given this clear bias, it is totally unacceptable and misleading that the IPA puts itself out as a ‘leading public policy think tank’,” Mohamed Idris said.
He was responding to a Bernama report yesterday in The Star which quoted an IPA report – “US Foundation Funding in Malaysia” by its executive director Dr Mike Nahan – as saying that while most Malaysian NGOs were transparent about foreign funding, CAP, SAM and TWN had “extremely low levels of transparency.”
The IPA report, which is available at www.ipa.org.au, said of the 30 Malaysian organisations which received grants from US foundations between 1998 and 2001, the TWN and CAP network received the most with 11 grants totalling US$1.41mil (RM5.36mil).
IPA’s website said it did not accept government funding but instead obtained funding from more than 2,000 individuals, corporations and foundations, adding that no single source accounted for more than 7% and no sector more than 15% of total funds.
In a phone interview from Melbourne, Nahan said funders who donated A$5,000 (RM) and above were listed in IPA’s annual reports which are available online.
“Yes, we receive funding from companies and corporations, but we are transparent about it and we have a governance system in place that ensures that we are independent in our research,” he said, adding that Malaysia was the first foreign country in IPA’s NGO Watch campaign to be researched and this would be followed with Indonesia.
Nahan said even if Malaysian-based groups did not want to disclose their foreign sources of funding for fear of political action, they should at least disclose the system of governance they have that ensures their independence from funders.
“TWN and CAP are no longer small grassroots organisations. They have become big and influential million dollar organisations. It is incumbent upon them to be accountable and transparent,” he said.
He noted that TWN and SAM did not disclose their governing board, provide annual reports, or disclose key funders and US foundation grants on their websites.