Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rights and Democracy: mea culpa

In my just-previous post, I asserted that "there is really very little left to say about the egregious antics of the Gang of Seven," and rashly stated my assumption that
Payam Akhavan's testimony yesterday had not been "earth-shattering."

I couldn't have been more wrong, which will teach me to assume.

Here is an excerpt from today's
Canadian Press story:

"A big part of [a doubling of the Board's budget last year] were honoraria that went to board members who come here (to the committee) and speak as though they are volunteers," he said.

Akhavan claimed that Jacques Gauthier, a board member who served as acting president after Beauregard's death of a heart attack in January, had charged 11 days worth of honorariums for a six-day trip to China. He also alleged that board member Marco Navarro-Genie charged four extra days for personal time spent in Haiti on agency business.

More explosively, Akhavan alleged that while Gauthier was acting president he gave Navarro-Genie a one-week agency contract "as a senior adviser, for an unspecified amount of funds for an unspecified mandate."

Akhavan said he was unaware of a sitting board member ever getting a contract from Rights and Democracy: "It would seem self-evidently a conflict of interest for any board member to give a contract to another board member."

New Democrat MP Paul Dewar demanded the agency produce copies of any such contract, calling it "highly disturbing and unprofessional and unethical" if true.

But blogger Alison at Creekside--who gently corrected me in a comment--has more, much more. I urge readers to walk on over there and read her lengthy account of what Akhavan had to say.

Some highlights of what are, at this point, allegations:
  • Board member Marco Navarro-Génie referred to Board members such as Akhavan as "third worldists," comparing them to Robert Mugabe, and contrasted them to "Her Majesty's North American subjects."

  • Internal documents were leaked to Ezra Levant, Canwest and NGO Monitor's Gerald Steinberg.

  • The Board budget, $130,000 the previous year, had swollen to nearly $300,000 by the time Akhavan resigned. Board members paid themselves a lot of honoraria--$80,000 worth.

  • Worse, one Board member (Jacques Gauthier) allegedly let a contract to another member (Navarro-Génie).

  • The influence of NGO Monitor was everywhere apparent: Board Chair Aurel Braun even tried to have Gerald Steinberg address the Board. Steinberg had access to internal R&D documents. Akhavan noted that Yosi Alfer, a former advisor to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, has said: "NGO Monitor seems dead set against human rights monitoring of Israel and smearing anyone who supports this vital activity." Steinberg, in fact, had to issue a retraction to human rights organization Al-Mezan in 2007 for calling it a supporter of violence. Al-Mezan is one of the three Middle East human rights organizations that received small grants from Rights and Democracy, and which Chairman Braun has consistently denigrated.

  • The one staff member who did not sign the famous letter calling for the resignation of Braun, Gauthier and Elliot Tepper was the source of the unproven allegation that a favourable collective agreement was given to the staff in return for signatures. Gauthier subsequently tried to promote this person to the position of Director of Communications, on the same day that incumbent Charles Vallerand was fired.
Transparency? Accountability? We'll see. In the meantime, it's perhaps a little more obvious why the knives were out for Akhavan.

And to compound my embarrassment, I had missed Barry Coopers slag-job in the Calgary Herald on April 7. These excerpts give some indication of its viciousness:

R&D's late president, Remy M. Beauregard, was a career bureaucrat and like all such creatures had developed a deep allergy to criticism, however mild, and had mastered the art of covering his backside.


[B]etween May 2009 and January 2010, Beauregard managed to turn several "international" members of the board against the performance review committee by granting them favours, including travel perks, interns, and funding for projects in their home countries, according to Marco Navarro [sic], an R&D board member. [emphasis added]

Alison rightly pointed out in her comment on my earlier post that this would make the Canwest attack-article yesterday the third of its kind. No longer happenstance or coincidence, then: it seems that we're
indeed looking at enemy action.

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