Rights and Democracy is spending more time on internecine fights than on its stated purpose of promoting rights and democracy abroad. Canadians, who underwrite the organization, do not appear to be getting value for their money. The government should undertake an immediate and thorough review of its operations and the role of its board and staff. If the organization cannot be righted, its very existence will be in question.
The latest broadside comes from former board member Payam Akhavan, who says contracts were improperly granted to and per diems inappropriately claimed by directors. Since the resignation of three directors, and the death of president Rémy Beauregard, Rights and Democracy has been beset by a mutinous staff, leading to dismissals that only inflame tensions. Its opaqueness in response to requests to disclose is, for a pro-democracy group, hypocritical.
Rights and Democracy has done good work over the years. But its dysfunction, shown in a letter of non-confidence in the leadership signed by almost all staff members, demands action.
Its financials and performance merit a new independent review. A recent audit has come under suspicion because it was ordered by interim president Jacques Gauthier, a target of the staff letter. The Auditor-General gave Rights and Democracy clean bills of financial health in March, 2009, but new allegations merit prompt scrutiny. In addition, Parliament should ask her to perform a value-for-money audit.
The staff's resistance to the government's right to name the organization's leadership is troubling. But so, too, is the failure of the leadership, notably chair Aurel Braun and Mr. Gauthier, to calm the dissension and return focus to the organization's mandate.
Gérard Latulippe, recently appointed president, testifies at a Commons committee today. He will have to show that he can get this organization back on track.
It may be too late for such a turnaround. In that event, withdrawal of Rights and Democracy's funding need not diminish Canada's role in promoting human rights and democratic development. Governments do pull support from troubled or underperforming institutions (First Nations University of Canada) even if it helped found them (the Canadian Council on Learning).
Substitutes are available. More funds could be transferred to CIDA, which does its own audits of groups it funds. Or the government could shift support to other rights- and democracy-promoting organizations that accept government funding.
The need to support Canada's engagement on rights and democracy issues is undisputed. But Rights and Democracy has only a little time left to prove that it should be the national vehicle to do that work.
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