Tue, 08 Aug 2000

ALRI helping build a just Indonesia

By Marcus Einfeld

SYDNEY, Australia (JP): On July 25 this newspaper published an article by Bob Burton, editor of the Mining Monitor published in Australia by the Mineral Policy Institute under the heading "Small donation for big payoff?"

The principal target of its criticisms was Rio Tinto Ltd (Rio), but in the process the article delivered a most unfair broadside against Australian Legal Resources International (ALRI), a non-government non-profit corporation of Australian Judges and lawyers which provides without charge a range of services in legal, parliamentary and judicial reform to developing countries and transitional democracies.

With the assistance of the Australian Government's aid agency AUSAID, the World Bank, the Commonwealth Secretariat, other governments and aid agencies, and many individual and corporate donors including Rio, ALRI has been carrying out projects of this kind for nearly 10 years. This includes the donation of large numbers of computers, furniture and other practical needs of courts, and tens of thousands of law books.

Under agreements with the Indonesian government, we have been operating in Indonesia since 1999.

Burton's article raises important issues concerning the relationship between multinational corporations and non- governmental organizations (NGOs). They are matters to which ALRI has always given the most serious consideration.

We agree that the barriers of propriety and honesty could be transgressed in a given case just as they could in other situations of potential conflict. But Burton is wrong to suggest that there has been any transgression in this instance, not least because we have gone to great pains to ensure that result.

In fact Burton's research for the article ignored important recent international developments designed to deal with the problems that this relatively new phenomenon has thrown up. Our association with Rio and our other corporate supporters, like similar relationships between other NGOs and the private sector in Australia and around the world, came about because governments everywhere have increasingly been pulling out of long established funding arrangements for social and other beneficial projects both at home and abroad.

As a consequence, NGOs and the often very needy people and societies benefiting from their work have had nowhere else to turn but to the private sector for support.

To meet this development worldwide, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, speaking at last year's Economic Summit at Davos, Switzerland, proposed what he called a Global Compact between NGOs, multinational corporations and the UN. Designed to establish a commitment by the business community to work towards the implementation of international norms in human rights, environment and labor, this Compact was signed in New York just last week.

Since the activities of business and civil society do not traditionally coincide, and because history has shown a need to share more widely the concept that the human dignity which underlies international human rights standards must be the priority for all human activity, this Compact is of historic importance.

ALRI's relationship with Rio, which gives us the opportunity to advance this concept within one of the world's largest mining corporations, preceded the Global Compact, but is a product of the thinking which energized it.

Far from being compromised by the association, we are proud of the opportunity it has given us to be among the leaders of this international development. We are appreciative of the fact that Rio has agreed to assist us to achieve our goals and invite our participation in the development of its policies on human and social justice problems which some of its commercial activities cause. We are striving to make a significant contribution to their resolution.

The article was also based on false and inaccurate statements. First. The statement that money made available by Rio for some of ALRI's programs enables Rio to gain access to and have influence over Indonesia's legal development and influential personnel, was completely untrue. The exceptional repute of ALRI's work and the integrity of its patrons and Board members are our hallmarks. They are not for sale for any price to anyone.

Second. Contrary to the article, no one in ALRI has "acknowledged that legal staff from Rio may be seconded to work with ALRI on the Indonesian law reform project", even in a minor role. Under our agreement ALRI certainly has the right to seek staff assistance from Rio.

Possible areas include travel, publications and computer technology. But one thing an organization of lawyers does not lack is lawyers. We have never asked Rio for the help of its lawyers and have no intention of doing so.

Third. The article suggested that ALRI's relationship with Rio raises questions of conflict of interest. This proposition is imaginary and fictional. When our former chief executive went to work for Rio, we correctly anticipated that his position would be made permanent in due course.

He is an able professional, Rio headhunted him, it was a promotion for him, and he went with our blessing. From the moment he left us, he worked for Rio, not ALRI. He has not tried, and he would not have thought to attempt, to influence ALRI in one single respect since he left. The suggestion that his change of employment has sinister implications and blurs the respective roles of ALRI and Rio is mischievous and untrue.

Burton's article clearly attributed to Rio the intent of infiltrating ALRI with the purpose of influencing, for selfish or nefarious purposes, our efforts to this end. I do not speak for Rio. For ALRI, I give this unequivocal assurance. In the knowledge that such an approach or attitude by any supporter would be completely unacceptable to ALRI, Rio has never endeavored, in even the slightest degree, to do so.

The government and people of Indonesia know that we have accepted their invitation to work with them because we want to make a contribution to their heroic efforts to build a stable decent society based on democratic values and human dignity.

They may rest assured that ALRI will continue to carry out its trusteeship role according to the highest ethical standards. We are well qualified to do so. We call upon the Mineral Policy Institute and its constituents to join us in our efforts and endeavors to assist the development in Indonesia of a fair, honest and open society governed by justice and the rule of law.

Marcus Einfeld AO QC is a justice and President of the Australian Legal Resources International based in Sydney (www.alri.org.au.).