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Corruption in Liberty Institute

Corruption in the Non Profit sector is more of a rule than an exception. I am compelled to go open about my own experiences with a think tank in public interest. I hope that all keep their eyes and ears open.

I had to leave my job with Liberty Institute, a free market think tank based in New Delhi run by Barun S Mitra, this week. After six mails, I did not get a single written explanation or even an email on why I had to sign documents related to a project funded by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation I did not work on. I heard not a word on why I was not getting an explanation on the financial mishandling. A significant part of my pay was purposefully delayed for nearly seven months. I was also burdened with work related emails in a cancer threat phase.

In the first week of October, a colleague asked me to work on a grant application for Empowering India, our project on Democracy. I told politely that I do not do such work which is against my convictions. I sent a mail to Barun mildly telling him that I cannot work on it. I did not get a reply.

In the middle of December, I got a salary cheque written in the name of the Empowering India project. I never worked on that project as such. I sent him a mail asking why, and did not get a reply though I was getting many other mails. Next day, I was told that it was for my work in August. There were only a few blog posts in August on the Empowering India blog. The amount was disproportionate. There was some talk related to transfer of funds. I was told that it is just a technical matter. I decided to believe him till proven otherwise. I brought up what happened months back with the democracy grant application. He said that he never asked me to do so. He had in fact mailed me to discuss with two others on what to do about it.I noticed that mail only later when searching through mails, after things became absolutely clear to me. The only work related mails which went without a reply were the ones in which I disagree.

Last week, I sifted through the documents as I felt suspicion when I was asked to sign another blank document. I found that the funding for “Empowering India” was from September to December, and that the cheque was dated in the first week of October. Why am I supposed to believe now that it was for my work in August? Why did I get a disproportionate amount for my work on the “Ayn Rand in India” initiative in June and July? I heard from Barun that the Institute itself funds the Ayn Rand initiative. I heard from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation that they partly fund it. There were only four blog posts in September on the Empowering India blog. I sent a mail asking why such mails go unexplained. There was no reply for it too. I heard from the accountant who is associated with the organization for several years that it must be to take money from Friedrich Naumann Foundation. He said it not as an accusation, but as a matter of fact. He was certainly not aware of the fact that it will be taken seriously by me. It was only then I considered such a possibility.

We have an initiative on Ayn Rand‘s philosophy. A few months back, a post of mine criticizing Ayn Rand’s ethics was blocked from the e-group for no reason. I heard nothing from him except that he did it.

There was extreme consistency in the way I got my pay cheque. I got my pay of June and July in the middle of August. I got my pay of August and September only in October third week, and then a lot less. Same happened in November. I heard that it was because of technical reasons related to Income tax, and that he could not pay more till I get a new PAN number. I got to know from the accountant that Barun could easily pay double as much as he had mentioned. How could he run an organization for one and a half decades and not know this fact? I mentioned this fact on the second on December and still I got a fraction of what I could get even when he could easily pay the whole of the last three months salary and more even in the absence of the PAN number. A colleague asked me: “You work much more than all of us. Why are you paid so little then?” I dismissed it saying I don’t think Barun will purposefully do such things.

I got my new PAN number in the second week of December. I did not get what I was supposed to get. In the end of December, I heard from a person who takes contract from the organization that I have to be careful. I told him that my experiences were overall good, and that he was just imagining things. When I got my pay in January twenty days after the technical reasons were removed, it was still a fraction of what I was supposed to get, .

More than a month back, when I was suspected of having oral cancer (It was later found to be an inflammation), the person who had warned me before informed that the same thing happened to many people who worked here when they left the organization. It had happened to him too.

Forty days had passed since he could pay me whatever he had to pay me, which he could have always paid me in any case. Yet I never heard a word from him in all these months. Whenever I got my money, it was when I tell him that I am running out of money. Once, it was when he asked me to pay for something. It is a fact Barun cannot fail to see. Whenever I decide to leave the job-and it happened thrice-he will call me up before me telling him so, and whenever he calls me up, I know why he calls me up. He knows well that he had driven me to such a decision. So, my delayed pay is a truth Barun cannot fail to know. One never makes such a huge evasion out of ignorance.

When I was on leave for medical checkups and rest, I was burdened with work related emails. He asked our IT Manager to ask me to get the newsletter done as soon as possible. When it got too much, I sent him a single word “Please!”. I did not get a reply. The mails continued. I waited for one more day and I asked my pay: I got it all within a few hours with an unbelievable excuse that it was because of the PAN number. Why was it not possible for 40 days after I got the PAN number? Why was it easily possible in a few hours after I asked?  I was never given a proper, sensible explanation. One thing is clear: It has nothing whatsoever to do with the PAN number. I was told that I was asked to work as he did not want me to get sucked into it.  However, later incidents indicate that it is definitely not at all the case.

The days before I left, I sent two more mails to him expressing why I am leaving, which went without a reply. The day I left, I shouted on phone that he should send the cheque and experience certificate to my room. It should be clear by then that it is over. Not surprisingly, when he came to office that day, he asked everyone where I am, as if he had no idea of what happened. I completely expected this. He went out of his way to prove that he was surprised. To him, it makes sense to pretend ignorance from a “strategical” point of view. It made only things obvious to me. I got a mail from Barun saying that he is beginning to understand things. I replied back asking for an explanation again and there was no reply for it either.

Tactically, it might even make sense for a person to pretend not to notice certain things, even if it means not to prevent the humiliation which one goes through. Think of a situation in which one goes out of his way to prove that he was surprised to be humiliated! 

When I collected my final pay cheque, I again got a blank voucher to sign. I refused to sign. The IT Manager said it is a voucher and does not have to be filled. I pointed out that it was written:”For the following” and I myself wrote Climate Change Project and signed it. When I got back to my room and checked copies of the previous vouchers, none of them were blank and they were all filled by the organization. So, all this is a lie.

It looks like my employer is struggling to justify it through devious means right now, and it is quite possible that something as unbelievable might come up. My access to office email is blocked (I know that it could be typical of organizations) and previous emails would most likely be removed. Google server saves all the mails in any case and nothing much could be done by him in that regard to wipe out the evidence. I got to know that Barun sought outside help to disable my email account even when he could have asked our IT Manager. It all was done in a few hours. The person who disabled my email account forwarded Barun’s email asking him to change the password of my account and that of his. He was the same person who warned me that Barun doesn’t pay employees properly, especially when they leave the organization.

I think I deserve an answer on the documents I had signed.

Post Script: Last Sunday, the accountant called me up to say that there are some bills the organization had to pay me. I was expecting it totally, though I found no such possibility. I said that I have no more payments to receive and it should definitely be a mistake. “Thanks, but no thanks!” He got me have a look at the figures, and explained how. I was foxed for a moment and then suddenly I noticed that the money I got at the end of January, in the disease threat phase was missing. Barun will not miss it, given all the noise I made. It was more than any single payment I received in the last fifteen months, as it included whatever that was pending. Honestly, Liberty Institute doesn’t have the money to buy me. I seriously doubt whether anyone else has either. 

Not surprisingly, the voucher on “Empowering India” was rewritten in the name of the “Climate change project”, and I was asked to sign it again. I refused to sign without a written explanation and asked for a copy of the voucher. The accountant was not willing to provide a copy without me signing it. There were three vouchers to sign, and none of them were blank like the one I was asked to sign recently. Nor were any of the other ones I signed before. I also noticed that the amount spent on a Climate Change Conference I attended in February 2010 was  only above 60% of what was written in that name, which is to be redeemed by the Heartland Institute, which publishes the Non-Governmental International Panel Of Climate Change (NIPCC) Report. The whole pay of mine for the month of February was included as a honorarium for attending the conference, though only a part of it could be used for that purpose.  After I had left the office, I got a call saying that I have to pay more than I was told I was supposed to be paid. The accountant said that juggling funds is something usually done by the organization and that it is a normal and “appropriate” practice. Things cannot be more apparent.

I had informed Subodh Kumar of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Initially, he was very much co-operative and listened to my side. I was told that it would be prudent if I am not involved, and the internal decisions and actions will not be shared with me or any other outsider. I sent a mail agreeing, and asking what I have to do with the documents waiting to be signed based on what they have found out. There was no reply. When I got to know when I noticed that mishandling happened in the funds of the Heartland Institute, I mailed Friedrich Naumann foundation again asking for the details of the vouchers previously redeemed in my name as it must have happened elsewhere too. There was no reply for it either, though they were supposed to let me know. I informed the Heartland Institute too of the financial mishandling. When there was no reply initially, I wrote that I will have to seek other ways to deal with it. They let me know that all payments were made in the name of Barun Mitra and they have no payment documents related to me. If such documents don’t reach the Heartland Institute, why should Barun take the risk of writing it in their account? I mailed again asking in detail what could be done, but I am still waiting for the reply after many days. Mohit Satyanand, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Liberty Institute told me that he was sorry my pay was delayed, and that he was glad that the organization played by Income tax rules. I was also expected to say if the organization owes me any money. There was no reply when I pointed out that it had nothing to do with Income Tax regulations. After seven mails from my side saying that I can prove my claims, he didn’t ask for any proof. He still claims that he doesn’t understand my arguments on financial mishandling as my communication is not “good enough”. When I pursued it further, he still evaded my claims of having enough proof and just asked whether I know that this qualify as libel. I said I don’t fear such things a bit. I did not know that libel laws are compatible for liberty and libel is far more reprehensible that financial mishandling!  I was asked to spare them and divert my attention to more “productive matters”. One thing is certain.

I am really surprised by the insensitivity of people concerned towards truth and matters of importance. I am treated and looked down upon as a miscreant who talks of things which should not be talked about.

Post Script 2: I finally got a reply from Friedrich Naumann foundation saying that they still maintain that they thank me for raising my concern and that there will be no more final communication. It is clear to me what it means. If they wanted to deny the financial mishandling, they would have done so, as it involves their organization too. I got to know from my father that Barun called him up and threatened that he will take legal action against me for the blog post and aggressive emails-and that my parents should take me home and get me treated for mental illness. It is obvious why Barun needs me out of Delhi as all evidence is against him. As if it didn’t matter that Barun emailed me continuously on work even after me asking him to stop in a phase when I was struggling with pain and doctors had written off my prospects for a long life. Still, no communication whatsoever to me at all on relevant matters he had to answer.  I still stand by my positions and won’t move an inch back. I won’t withdraw a single legitimate sentence, and will fight this to the end of my life if necessary.

Interestingly, Barun sent a boy hired for the Empowering India project funded by Friedrich Naumann Foundation to my apartment, asking for accommodation. If FNF hasn’t stopped the funding, the reasons must be obvious.

Post Script 3: The funding from Friedrich Naumann Foundation still continues, and is said to be much more than that of the previous session. Subodh Kumar of Friedrich Naumann Foundation clearly knows that it is a case of corruption, and must have acted to cover this up.

I have backed up copies of all relevant emails and documents I had signed. It includes:

1) Emails which prove that I didn’t work on the Empowering India project as such, and that the amount reimbursed from the Heartland Institute was partly for my work on other initiatives

2) Documents on financial mishandling in the funds of the Heartland Institute and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Emails which show that the Chairman of the Board of directors had no interest in looking into the evidence even after continuous requests from my part. Emails which indicate that the two funding organizations didn’t disclose anything, or look further into evidence from my part. 

3) Several emails to Barun asking for a written explanation.

4) Documents which might prove that I was given blank vouchers

5)Emails which prove that Barun expressed surprise on me leaving the organization even after I had threatened many times to leave if no explanation is given on email, and after asking my experience certificate on phone

6) Emails which prove that Barun lied on Income tax regulations and that he delayed pay even after the regulatory reasons were over, and after I had mailed him asking it

7) Emails which prove that Barun continued to mail me even after I asked him to stop in a death threat phase.

8 ) Call details which prove that Barun sent people to my apartment, and threatened my father with legal action when there was no communication to me even after I left the job for these reasons.

 9) The details of my pay too are with me and could be verified from the bank accounts. 

10) If Barun had disabled my account and removed mails, Google server will have the copies.

Whatever I have claimed and could be proven, will be proven if necessary. I believe in freedom of speech, and as long as I believe truth to be on my side, I think I am entitled to, even obliged to tell it. There can be no legitimate purpose in faking reality and covering up the truth.

Shanu Athiparambath 

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