The Gulf kingdom welcomes the International Peace Institute even as it bars some human rights advocates and journalists from the country
As Bahrain enters the third year of a crisis sparked by Arab Spring protests in 2011, the government continues to bar many human rights advocates and journalists from entering the country.
But one non-profit group is not only being welcomed into the tiny Gulf kingdom, it’s opening an office there. And it’s doing so with funding from Bahrain’s ruling monarchy.
The International Peace Institute, a New York-based think tank closely associated with the United Nations (UN), announced last month an agreement to open the office to “promote development, peace and international security.”
The announcement comes at a time when Bahrain’s image-conscious government is still under international scrutiny amid continued pro-democracy protests. Human rights groups have criticized the government’s at times violent crackdown on the protests and failure to follow through on promised reforms.
Institute President Terje Rød-Larsen, a veteran diplomat in the Mideast who is also a United Nations under-secretary-general, told ProPublica that the new office would be a positive force in Bahrain and the region.
He compared the think tank to United Nations programs that operate in or receive funding from countries that are in crisis or face criticism.
“Problems related to peace and security are in difficult countries,” Rød-Larsen said.
Bahrain appeals to the institute as a location for an office because “along many dimensions it’s an open society,” he said, citing the status of women and “freedom of religion.”
Rød-Larsen said that taking money from Bahrain’s government would not compromise the institute’s work. He declined to say how much money Bahrain is providing.
Rød-Larsen has been a frequent visitor to Bahrain in recent years, regularly meeting with government officials both in his capacity as the institute’s president and as a UN official.
With New York offices across from the United Nations, the institute counts many former U.N. officials among its staff and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is honorary chair of its board . Rød-Larsen has also traveled with a U.N. staffer on some of his trips to Bahrain, the U.N. news site Inner City Press has noted.
During his visits Rød-Larsen has repeatedly been cited in Bahrain’s state media praising the government, though he disputes the accounts .
“Larsen lauded [the] return of calm to Bahrain which indicates the kingdom’s success in overcoming the crisis,” the official Bahrain News Agency reported in April 2011, just two months after the protests began.
“The U.N. official lauded the climate of freedom, democracy and institutional development in Bahrain,” said another November 2011 report on a meeting between Rød-Larsen and the foreign minister.
Rød -Larsen said that media outlets often attribute inaccurate statements to him on his diplomatic travels.
“If I should dispute all stories like this, it would be full time work,” he said.
Rød-Larsen said that, in reality, he believes Bahrain’s government has made mistakes.
As for what the International Peace Institute’s new office in Bahrain will do when it opens, Rød-Larsen on a recent trip discussed “plans for a renewed national dialogue in Bahrain,” according to the institute.
Khalil Almarzooq, a spokesman for the main opposition group al-Wefaq, told ProPublica that the group had not heard from Rød-Larsen anytime recently. Almarzooq said whether the institute will be a positive force in Bahrain all depends on how it uses the money the government is providing.
Organized as a nonprofit charity in New York, the institute had a budget of nearly $11 million in 2011 and Rød-Larsen received about $495,000 in compensation.
According to the group’s 2011 annual report, its major donors that year included the United States, several governments in Europe, as well as Bahraini regional allies Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The institute’s international advisory council includes Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence. Saudi Arabia sent troops to help put down the protests in Bahrain in 2011.
Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite spending considerable money from the exchequer nobody from the government knew the whereabouts of some of the reports on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. This is the 59th in a series of important judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that can be used or quoted in an RTI application
The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, expressed anguish over missing reports of number of Commissions on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
While issuing a show-cause notice to the Public Information Officer (PIO) and directing the home secretary of the Delhi government on 17 September 2010, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner said, “...the PIO could not locate the reports which must have been produced at considerable cost to the public exchequer. It appears that a number of Commissions have made hay on the anti-Sikh riots and given reports which have not delivered any justice to the victims and yet these reports cannot be located.”
New Delhi resident Suroor Mander, on 27 January 2010, sought information from the PIO of Lok Sabha who transferred the application to home (Police-II) department of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD). Here is the information she sought...
OP Wadhwa, officer on special duty (OSD) to the chief secretary and PIO, Delhi, transferred the RTI application to PIO of ADM (HQ) at divisional commissioner, who on 22 January 2010 forwarded it to the PIO of the home department.
In his reply, the PIO of home department, said, “The records pertaining to 1984 riots are almost 25 years old and the same are not readily available with the home department, Govt of NCT of Delhi. Efforts are being made to trace the records from our record room, and it may take some time to trace the record in respect of the information asked by you. This may be treated only as an interim reply and as soon as we are able to trace the relevant records, the same would be dealt/ provided as per the provisions of RTI Act, 2005”.
Due to non-receipt of the required information, Ms Mander filed her first appeal. While re-iterating the PIO's statement, the First Appellate Authority (FAA) in his order again directed the PIO to provide a copy of the letter dated 25 February 2010 sent to her and provide the information immediately after checking the record.
Ms Mander then filed her second appeal before the Commission citing incomplete information provided by the PIO.
During a hearing, Mr Gandhi, the then CIC, observed that the RTI application was transferred from the Union government to the state government and it was even transferred twice before reaching the home department of GNCTD. He said, “After that the PIO at the home department Delhi said that he could not locate the reports which must have been produced at considerable cost to the public exchequer. In bits and pieces they have managed to give some reports and yet the following reports are missing completely:
1. Marwah Commission on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, 2. Dhillon Committee on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, and 3. Narula Committee on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.”
“It appears that a number of Commissions have made hay on the anti-Sikh riots and given reports which have not delivered any justice to the victims and yet these reports cannot be located. The appellant naively believes that the government would have acted on these reports, whereas it appears nobody is even aware of what these reports said,” the Commission said.
In a letter on 29 March 2010, one PIO MA Ashref refused to provide the Kapur-Mittal report on the anti-Sikh riots stating that, “the report of KapurMittal Committee has been marked as secret and therefore cannot be disclosed under the provisions of Official Secrets Act 1923”.
Mr Gandhi said nearly four and half years after the RTI Act, 2005, had been implemented a PIO must realize that refusal to give information can only be based on the exemptions of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act. “No exemptions of Section-8(1) of the RTI Act have been quoted by the PIO nor has he given any reasons to explain how the information is exempt. Thus the action of the PIO is without any basis in law,” he said.
The Commission, while allowing the appeal issued a show-cause notice to the PIO and directed Mr Ashref to give reasons as to why penalty should not be levied on him.
Regarding the reports of the Marwah Commission, Dhillon Committee and Narula Committee, the CIC directed GS Patnaik, home secretary of GNCTD to file an affidavit to Ms Mander before 10 October certifying that these reports are not with the Delhi government.
CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
Decision No. CIC/SG/A/2010/002098/9399
Appeal No. CIC/SG/A/2010/002098
Appellant : Suroor Mander
Respondent : MA Ashref
PIO & Joint Secretary (Home-II)
Govt. of NCT of Delhi
Home (Police-II) Deptt.,
5th Level 'C' Wing, Delhi Secretariat,
The CAG wanted the discretion for records to be requisitioned to vest with the government or its auditor and wanted the ministry to ensure that RIL provide access to all documents requisitioned
The Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) clarified that it is not planning to do a performance audit of the Reliance but want to examine the ‘propriety’ of the expenses made on the KG-D6 gas block. The clarification follows the suspension of audit of the company’s spending on the prolific gas block on India’s east coast due to differences with RIL over the scope of the audit.
“While a performance audit is not envisaged, it is important that the audit of Block KG-DWN-98/3 (KG-D6) covers examination of all records and documents supporting costs, expenditures, expenses, receipts and income as mentioned in the PSC, including propriety of these expenditure, expenses, receipts and income,” the CAG wrote to oil ministry.
The CAG wanted the discretion for records to be requisitioned to vest with the government or its auditor (CAG) and wanted the ministry to ensure that RIL provide access to all documents requisitioned.
“The purpose of its audit was to ensure that “the Government’s financial interests have been safeguarded,” the CAG wrote on 12th March.
This follows oil ministry writing to CAG saying the official auditor was being requested to undertake the audit of KG-D6 for 2008-09 to 2011-12 under Section 20 of the C&AG (DPC) Act, 1971.
Stating that such audit should be a financial scrutiny, the ministry told CAG that the scope, extend and manner of the audit will be as spelt out in Article 25.5 and 25.6, read with Appendix C of the Production Sharing Contract (PSC) RIL had signed with the government for exploring and producing oil and gas from KG-D6 block.
These provisions of PSC provide for a government appointed auditor inspecting and auditing all records and documents supporting costs, expenditures, expenses, receipts and income.
It calls for verifying reasonableness of all charges and credits, which constitutes a pure financial audit.
CAG said it was in agreement with this scope of audit provided the ministry agreed with it on the issue of requisition of records and access.
The auditor said that its six-member audit team were at premises of RIL in Navi Mumbai from 9th January to 31st January during which they issued 40 requisition calling for information and records.
“However, as of 31st January, the contractor (RIL) had provided only a few records without formal replies stating that they were holding back replies till such time as the points of disagreement were resolved,” it said.