June 28, 2013
The Chairperson and Members of the Board
Sustainable Development Policy Institute
Subject: Resignation in Protest over Issues of Transparency and Principles for Granting the ED Extension without Due Process
Respected Chairperson and Members of the Board:
It is with a sense of deep disappointment that I am resigning in protest over issues of transparency and principles for granting the ED extension without due process. For the last four months specifically and one year generally, I have been extremely concerned about the personalized manner in which Board decisions are made as well as the process that leads to them. I would like to list these methodically:
The unprofessional and ugly manner in which the appointment of a new Chairperson of the Board was raised and dragged by the Executive Director (ED) who insinuated “procedural lapses” to ensure that a Chairperson is appointed who would provide him with unquestionable support over matters that may not hold up to principles of transparency and good governance. The new Chairperson continues to use office space and facilities at SDPI even though he had been formally asked to relinquish use of office space and daily presence at SDPI as this could potentially constitute conflict of interest.
The Board has been repeatedly informed that decisions made by an incomplete board (consisting of 8 rather than a minimum of nine members) are legally irregular. The consistent refusal and resistance to even complete the Board, and running the affairs of the institute based on a quorum of four members and vote is ethically and legally questionable. That an incomplete board has decided the matter of the Chairperson and the ED’s renewal (the latter on the basis of the casting vote of the Chair) points to malafide intent and bad governance. Undue haste to take decisions without fulfilling legal obligations took precedence over legal requirements and principles of transparency.
The contract of the ED and the need to initiate a search process has been overdue despite several reminders at Board meetings. While it is within the powers of the Board to grant renewal yet it is the duty of the Board to ensure that a proper appraisal/evaluation is conducted alongside the identification of priority areas for the future. Although it was decided at the 47th meeting of the Board that a search committee would be established and an advertisement placed, the decision was reversed through minutes circulated just a day before the 48th Board meeting where the new Chairperson announced that the matter should be decided through a vote and that he was willing to cast his vote as Chair in favor of the incumbent.
Continuing on from Para 3, minutes of Board meeting have often been recorded in a manner that omit important decisions and/or reflect completely different meanings and conclusions. The matter of expanding Board membership provides concrete evidence whereby five members were to be invited to join the Board at the 48th BoG Meeting yet the ED sought the opinion of a Research Advisor (who is not an advisor the Board and therefore he should not have been privy to board minutes or matters) about the list finalized for Board membership. Based on feedback received, the ED requested another board member (not even present at the meeting when the decision was taken) to draft these points and reopen the matter of new members who were to be requested to join the Board. This embarrassing email trail is available with all Board Members. Sadly, the Chairperson and ED do not see anything amiss with the communication and maintain that the emails are in order. I would like to withdraw the nominations I made (Mr Shamim Ahmed Khan and Ms Shahnaz Wazir Ali) and three others whose nominations I endorsed (Mr Karamat Ali, Dr Shaukat Hameed Khan, Mr Babar Sattar) as they do not deserve to be exposed to the kind of proceedings that have become the norm at Board meetings.
A pliant Board, of which we have ample evidence in the form of emails that are written by the finance expert on the Board at the request of the ED, is incapable of any meaningful oversight.
I have been personally subjected to emails and interaction that is neither professional nor within the ambit of dignified conduct. I was harassed and advised to record my offer to leave the Chairpersonship of the Board based on “personal reasons” (since, it was said, that I would be unable to fulfill my responsibilities as I have young children). Of course, I did not agree with this rendering of a new narrative being created in the minutes.
I have been shouted at in Board meetings by the Chairperson, and constantly singled out as someone who questions too much and raises issues of governance and systems too often, whereas I believe I have fulfilled my duties as a conscientious member of the Board. At the personal level, I deeply regret joining the Board and not resigning earlier as my experience has been has not only been unpleasant, it has been tantamount to harassment.
As a member of the Board, I believe my duty was to uphold the interests of the institute and not an individual. However, this was not acceptable to some members of the board. I found one member’s attempt at the last meeting to ‘negotiate’ the length of term for the ED particularly distasteful–“Lets meet half way” he said, as if we are haggling over merchandize in a shop. It meant that we should drop any appraisal or peer review of the work of the ED, and simply grant an extension based on an activity report that did not even provide the Board with adequate information about the ED’s plans for the future, especially with regard to plans for getting senior researchers on board at SDPI.
Neither was any discussion time allowed for reviewing the ED’s activity report which grossly misrepresents reality in several important ways. That we have raised issues around the quality and quantity of research coming from the ED and the institution was also deemed a non-issue at the meeting.
The section entitled , “Powers and Duties of the Board” in the Rules and Regulations of SDPI states:
- The general superintendence, direction and control of the affairs and funds of the Institute shall be vested in the Board.
- The responsibilities of the Board shall be the following:
- To determine:
i. Financial and managerial policies;
ii. Priorities for the Institute’s research;
The above require a vigilant and not a pliant Board. It is also a sad reflection that concerns about the lack of hiring of senior researchers for the IDRC institutional support as well as the refusal to allow for any concerns to be voiced about the on-going performance review of SDPI in the Aawaz Project as a result of receiving a ‘C’ in the independent review, and the refusal to look at the multiple layers of problems regarding management, finances and governance is disturbing and a matter of public concern. SDPI’s ‘partnerships’ with unknown NGOs whose registration details are unavailable to the public is also a matter of concern, especially when projects led by the ED at SDPI are listed as projects undertaken by such NGOs. Without internal governance checks, such ‘partnerships’ could jeopardize the SDPI’s institutional credibility. As it is, several people are concerned that a research policy institute has turned into a survey organization.
Given the Chairperson’s decision to vote (ostensibly because one member had to leave for a meeting) on a matter that needed debate and discussion, and given the refusal to consider legal irregularities, I cannot continue to be a member of a board in which verbal bullying, unpleasant behavior, petty intrigues have reduced a fairly well-established institution to a vehicle for powerful interests. I disassociate myself from this Board and shall also be unavailable to SDPI for any voluntary work and therefore my name should be removed from the list of Research Advisors as well.
Saba Gul Khattak
House 10, St 7, Block D
Naval Anchorage, Islamabad
CC: Mr Shamim Ahmed Khan
Ms Shahnaz Wazir Ali
Dr Shaukat Hameed Khan
Mr Babar Sattar
Mr Karamat Ali