Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Why is Transparency Better for Tamil Diaspora Organizations?

by Vettivel, March 10, 2010

Tamils trust an organization because the organization is transparent and informs the people about what they are doing via public and member reports. Whether it is a success or failure, the members of the organization are informed in a timely manner. The members can elect their next board or committee based on information related to its performance in the previous years.

Tamil organizations need to adopt greater transparency for the betterment of the Diaspora Tamil. The recent ICG report (http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=6545&l=1 ) mentioned that Tamil Diaspora organizations are adopting transparency and democracy as a strategy for moving forward. In fact, the strategy started to give good results in the case of the GTF (Global Tamil Forum).

The purpose of this article is to evaluate and understand whether transparency is good for Tamils or not. Most of the western and European government, non-profit and nongovernmental organizations and commercial companies do follow transparency principles. For simplicity, we can define transparency as the level of all relevant information that an organization provides or makes available for its members and the public. The organizations considered in this article have as at least one of their goals to make a positive influence on decision makers in western and European countries to support the Eelam Tamils’ need for freedom and human rights and to freely express their political will.

In the past Tamil organizations did most of their lobbying by meeting politicians and officials and trying to convince them about the legitimacy of the Tamil cause. When these lobby groups did their work, as a community group, Tamil leaders, human right advocates, Tamil Diaspora advocates, etc, the government officials and politicians most of the time relied on briefs from other sources such as the ICG or their own intelligence organizations to form their opinion. In addition, the decision makers have been influenced by Sri Lankan government agencies and lobby groups under their employ.

Tamils supported the lobbying efforts by their community representatives, believing that this was how they could convince the western and European decision makers of the legitimacy of their cry for freedom from oppression. The people who did the lobbying also convinced the people, saying that their effort was working, but asked for patience as they could not show the results in a short time frame. To some extent, some of these lobby groups mislead or gave false hope by saying that they were achieving progress. There is no way to measure that progress and it was mostly considered and promoted as long as Tamils were prepared to fund it.

In lobbying, most of the decision making should be done in small group of people due to the nature of confidentiality. Then the question arises whether the few individuals who make the crucial decisions on behalf of a community are really reflecting the community view or not. Normally, big organizations and governments use lobby groups, and in that case, the organizations and governments have mechanisms to measure the outcome. The Sri Lankan government has hired lobby groups and media groups to tarnish the Tamil Diaspora. They measure their success by getting Diaspora Tamil organizations banned in a country and then link any legitimate Tamil activity as being backed to the banned organization.

The case of lobbying for a community is quite different than lobbying on behalf of a government or an organization. Further, it is very difficult to get the opinion from the community for a particular lobbying effort. The biggest issue is that it is very difficult to evaluate or investigate what was lobbied for, how it was lobbied or who was involved in the activity. The community needs to put their trust in a few individuals and hope for a favourable outcome. The community does not get informed of the relevant facts in a timely manner. For the Tamil community, trusting individuals as their representatives is not a viable alternative at least in the near future. The Sri Lankan government and other foreign governments can and will successfully infiltrate any small Tamil group that operates. It is easy for the Sri Lankan government to simply buy out a few individuals or field their spies in these groups. In addition to these concerns, there does not seem to clear accountability for the financially contributions made by the people.

However, Tamils have another organizational strategy as well. In the recent past, most major Tamil organizations claim that they are an organization of our people, for our people and by our people. That simply means a people organization. Members pay membership fees and elect a board of directors and committees to run and oversee the organization. The organization operates in an accountable, transparent and democratic manner. The members get updates about the activities and they know what efforts the organization is taking, its successes, failures and challenges the organization is facing. It enables the members to make informed decisions, be it increasing their contribution, getting their friends to become as members, etc.. The organizations create strong media groups to keep the media informed. Since such behaviour exhibits credibility, the media also respect the views of the organization.

Some organizations are still struggling to move from the lobbying approach to the transparent organization approach. People who worked in the lobby group usually try not to openly discuss their activities, but organizations are usually more open and inform the stake-holders of all their activities. People don’t realize that the most important thing they tried to hide has the greatest probability of getting exposed. ┬áRumours about such activity spread at a much faster rate than a simple memo or update from an organization.

Good organizations can generate positive public opinion via running several campaigns such as charitable activities for good causes, for example raising funds for hospitals and major reputed non profit institutions, campaigns to highlight the plight of the Tamils in the internment camps, efforts to highlight war crimes and human right violations and activities such as 'boycott Sri Lanka campaigns,' etc. Further efforts to get involved in local politics and get Tamils closer to decision makers can be other tasks these organizations perform. In this way, organizations build the trust among the Tamil Diaspora, as well as their fellow citizens. Tamils trust an organization because the organization is transparent and informs the people about what they are doing via public and member reports. Whether it is a success or failure, the members of the organization are informed in a timely manner. The members can elect their next board or committee based on information related to its performance in the previous years. This will encourage better transparency and efficiency. Bad management or inefficient official cannot stay long in transparent organizations.

An organization gets credibility from the people it represents based on how accountable and transparent it has been in its operations. When a need arises, the organization can use its reputation and credibility to make a point to the public. Mostly, the organization statement can carry much more weight than those of the lobby groups. In addition, the organization also can use a small group under it strict policy control to also lobby for support for its activities. In this way, the lobby group can work for the organization to achieve very specific goals.

There is a disadvantage of being a transparent organization as well. When influencing politicians, officers or organizations in countries like India and Sri Lanka, it is very difficult to avoid corruption. A bribe may need to be paid to the officials to get pretty much any work done. It is difficult for a transparent organization to do this type of lobbying. However, this is a known and general challenge for any western and European companies and organization who deal with countries like India and Sri Lanka.

There are more advantages for Tamil Diaspora when they are represented by organizations with greater transparency and clear accountability structures in place. Hence, Tamils should demand accountability and transparency from every single initiative or effort undertaken on their behalf by any organization, entity or individual. This will lead to the creation of better institutions and help foster goodwill among the Tamils as well as the citizens of the nation in which these organizations exist.