Kairos' funding cut, no explanation
By Josiah Neufeld | Friday, December 4, 2009
A Tzotzil Indigenous woman listens to a prayer service during a KAIROS delegation to Mexico. PHOTO: RACHEL WARDEN/KAIROS
TORONTO, ONViolated women in Congo, families whose members have been kidnapped in Indonesia, churches working for peace in Sudanthese are a few of the groups left high and dry after the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) abruptly terminated funding to Kairos in November.
There was no explanation, just a phonecall to inform executive director Mary Corkery that the church-based social justice organization she leads no longer fits CIDA's priorities and will not be receiving the $7.1 million that makes up about half of Kairos' budget for the next four years.
"I said, 'how can that be?'" said Corkery in an interview. Kairos submitted its application for program funding in December, 2008. By July the kinks were ironed out and CIDA told Kairos the new contract was sitting on the minister's desk waiting for a signature.
By September, the new funding agreement still hadn't been signed so CIDA granted Kairos extra funding until the end of November.
On November 30, a spokesperson told Corkery over the phone that CIDA would no longer fund Kairos. She wouldn't say why. None of Corkery's requests for information in writing or for meetings with CIDA officials have been answered.
Bev Oda, the minister responsible for CIDA, wouldn't speak to the press, but said in a statement that Kairos' work "does not meet CIDA's current priorities." In September, CIDA stated on its website it would be focusing on 20 countries under the themes of food security, children and sustainable economic growth.
"As far as we know, those are priorities that are applicable to bilateral aid [aid given directly from one country to another] and not to the partnership branch," says Corkery. "So they would not be applicable to groups like us at this point unless the minister is planning to make very big changes in what CIDA's about."
Corkery says the work of Kairos' partners aligns perfectly with a new accountability act emphasizing poverty and human rights work.
"We fit," say Corkery. "We fit the long term overall priorities that CIDA needs to carry out."
Kairos supports grassroots partners in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Canada and the Middle East that work for justice in areas of human rights, mining, indigenous people and the environment. Kairos is supported by Anglican, Christian Reformed, Lutheran, Mennonite, United, Quaker and Roman Catholic churches in Canada.
John Rafferty, NDP MP for Thunder Bay, believes Kairos' advocacy on environmental issues makes it distasteful to the Harper government.
Kairos has challenged the government on Canada's mining practices overseas, the side-effects of Alberta's oil industry and for dragging its feet in the lead-up to climate change talks in Copenhagen.
"You work on justice and environmental issues and Ms. Oda says, 'CIDA's not going in that direction,'" says Rafferty. "Knowing this government, it may be the first of a number of cuts."
"I think that the NGO community are very fearful about this. People are phoning and saying, 'It could be me next,'" says Corkery.
Cheryl Curtis, executive director of Primate's World Relief and Development Fund, the Anglican Church's international development arm, says she's concerned CIDA will sideline human rights. "To do that would go against legislation. So there's a critical concern there," she says. The PWRDF is urging Anglicans to contact their MPs and voice their concern before Parliament recesses on December 11.
Whatever the underlying issues are, no one at CIDA is talking.
"We need to have a dialogue about this. It needs to be out," says Corkery. "The government needs to speak about where it's taking development aid, and it needs to speak about what are the issues, after 35 years [of funding] that would make the church's major organization carrying out human rights overseas not applicable. Why would they end that relationship?"
She also hopes the decision can be reversed. "We have 20 partners who should be funded as of the beginning of December, and all of them are waiting."