To make matters worse a number of individuals with excessive service on the Board were re-appointed to their positions, once again making a mockery of Irish Red Cross’s public position that it is committed to good governance and board reform. The most brazen and shameless of these was the re-appointment of the Vice Chairman for the 21st year in a row. The continuing external damage to the Irish Red Cross’s reputation and image can only be guessed at.
All is not lost however regarding the Constitution. The document has no status until such time as the Joint IFRC/ICRC Commission on National Society Statutes in Geneva approves it. Given that the Constitution as it currently stands permits Central Council members, Area Committee members, Branch members and Nomination Committee members serve for life, in flagrant breach of internationally accepted good governance practice, it can only be hoped that the IFRC/ICRC will instruct the Irish Red Cross to make fundamental amendments and bring a corrected Constitution back before Central Council in December 2011. In addition to IFRC/ICRC approval the Constitution must also be accepted by Government and be compliant with pending Government changes to the 1938 Red Cross Act. A Government committed to transparency, good governance and ethics could not possibly stand over and/or legislate for the Constitution just approved.
Was there anything positive from the Central Council meeting readers might ask? Yes, believe it or not there was!
In what can only be described as a completely crushing and humiliating defeat for the ruling elite an important amendment was made to the Constitution before it was voted on, an amendment advocated by this Blog many times. The Article in the Constitution which stated that Executive Committee members could serve for a maximum of two three year terms and then be obliged to stand down for only one year before serving again was amended so that now Executive Committee members must step down for three years.
This amendment must be recognised and acknowledged as real progress in dismantling, albeit very slowly, the decades long power bases of certain individuals. The Blog is in no doubt that certain persons on the Executive Committee will be incandescent with rage over this last minute change.
There is, however, a real threat to the above positive development. Unless the Irish Government enshrines the amendment into legislation then the Central Council can change or revoke it at any time so long as a two-thirds majority approve it. African dictators are famous for bringing in ‘modern and progressive’ constitutions with clauses that include a maximum two terms in office. This is done initially to satisfy their western donors only to be amended in time so they can serve multiple and continuous terms in office. In the absence of the Irish Red Cross constitution amendment entering legislation a similar attempt can be expected over time by the Irish Red Cross. The subservient and acquiescent Central Council will not be any obstacle to reversing the amendment.
The issue of retrospective service was apparently raised during the meeting and surprise was expressed why lengthy cumulative service on the board to date is not to be taken into account when determining eligibility for future board service. The usual tried and tested Irish Red Cross response was trotted out by those same individuals with everything to lose should retrospective service be considered, namely ‘there may be legal barriers to taking retrospective service into consideration’. This is absolute nonsense and a standard operating procedure used by those under threat in the Irish Red Cross where they feign legal knowledge and try to scare off questioning and challenges.
There is absolutely no legal barrier whatsoever preventing the Central Council bringing in a rule that states any Executive Committee member who has served, say for 6 years, must immediately step down at the end of their current term and remain off Executive Committee for a minimum of 3 years. Central Council members should not allow themselves be bullied and intimidated into accepting positions that have no legal base in fact. Perhaps IFRC/ICRC and/or the Government will demand retrospective service be taken into consideration before giving their green light.
In the absence of a specific rule on retrospection, however, there is nothing preventing Executive Committee members from doing the right and honourable thing and stepping down after serving excessive periods in office. Clearly, based on the meeting of the 28th May, Right and Honour are distinctly lacking.
Everyone will now await the verdict from Geneva and the Irish Government. Both have been informed that the process of designing the approved constitution would fail any honest assessment of organisational consultation. Of particular note for readers has been the concerted attempt to prevent certain Irish Red Cross members from receiving a copy of the Draft Constitution. At least one life-long member whom the Blog is aware of wrote on numerous occasions to his Area, his Branch and to the Secretary General requesting a copy. All were ignored and to-date this individual has not had his request acceded to. Wilfully keeping the proposed constitution from even one member of the Society in and of itself makes the process of approving it on 28th May null and void in the view of the Blog.
Based on the Constitution as it currently stands the Society, in six/seven year’s time will finally see the removal of certain individuals for at least three years. Never again will anyone ever be permitted to serve on the Executive Committee for 21 years in a row. If it will not be allowed in the future it should not be allowed now. The Vice Chairman, Treasurer and any member with six years service or more should step down with immediate effect. The very precarious funding environment the Irish Red Cross finds itself in does not allow the luxury of waiting seven years for them to be forced to go.
The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness-Niels Bohr (Nobel Prize, 1922)
On a separate matter:
On 26th May 2011 Transparency International Ireland launched its new free confidential helpline called SpeakUp for persons wishing to seek advice on reporting corruption, fraud, abuse of power, negligence, misuse of resources and questionable procurement practices. The helpline will be staffed by experienced and trained professionals who will give free confidential advice and support to individuals who are facing ethical dilemmas or who witnessed something and are not sure how to proceed.
The Transparency International Ireland SpeakUp free and confidential helpline can be called at 1800 844 866 or by logging on at a specially protected website http://www.speakup.ie/
Anyone who has concerns over fraud, corruption, abuse of power etc in the workplace or elsewhere should not hesitate to call Transparency International whose highly dedicated and professional staff are immediately on hand to assist.