SEATCA letter: Restoring IDRC’s Integrity and Credibility

 

07 June 2010

Dr. Ahmed Galal

Board Member

International Development Research Centre

Canada

RE: Restoring IDRC’s Integrity and Credibility: Mrs. Barbara McDougall’s Resignation

Dear Dr. Galal,

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) is a regional nongovernment

organization working to advance tobacco control in Southeast Asia. We and our

colleagues from Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam

recognize the many contributions of IDRC’s Research for International Tobacco Control (RITC)

program, towards multidisciplinary tobacco control research projects in developing countries. In

line with its mission: To create a strong research, funding and knowledge base for the

development of effective tobacco control policies and programs that will minimize the threat of

tobacco production and consumption to health and human development in developing countries.

In recent months, however, we have been appalled by the revelation of the inherent

conflict of interest at IDRC in the person of Mrs. Barbara McDougall, who for many years sat as

a director of Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. while concurrently serving as Chair of IDRC’s

Board of Governors.

As you are probably well aware, Canada, as one of the 168 State Parties to ratify the

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)—and one of the first forty to do so, has the

responsibility of complying with this treaty’s general obligations including the protection of

tobacco control policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry

(Article 5.3). The implementing guidelines to elucidate this general obligation were

unanimously adopted by the FCTC’s Conference of the Parties and state the following guiding

principles:

1. There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s

interests and public health policy interests;

2. When dealing with the tobacco industry or those working to further its interests, should

be accountable and transparent;

3. Parties should require the tobacco industry and those working to further its interests to

operate and act in a manner that is accountable and transparent.

We are therefore perplexed by the fact that Mrs. McDougall continues to remain at the

helm of IDRC, a fact that also continues to tarnish RITC’s reputation, to erode its credibility, and

to undermine its very mission.

In truth, IDRC’s valued tobacco control programme–RITC–is slowly losing the trust and

support of some stakeholders:

• The Asia Pacific Association for the Control of Tobacco (APACT) 2010 Conference in

Australia publicly refused RITC funding for the conference, which means fewer

scholarships to attend the conference will be granted.

• The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation withdrew the remainder of $5.2M in funding for

a priority tobacco control project in Africa, the African Tobacco Situational Analyses

(ATSA). A major meeting in Africa was cancelled during which the project results and

next steps were to be discussed.

• RITC staff did not participate in a recent FCTC working group meeting in Ghana on

FCTC’s Articles 17 & 18 policy recommendations as originally planned.

The Lancet revoked a request for RITC to help fund a special issue on chronic diseases.

In order to salvage RITC’s credibility (as well as Canada’s reputation as a leader in

international tobacco control) and restore the confidence of tobacco control advocates the world

over in the integrity of RITC and the IDRC, we believe that it is insufficient that Mrs.

McDougall has ended her directorship at Imperial Tobacco. It is imperative that Mrs.

McDougall resign from IDRC’s Board or be replaced by the Canadian government.

We urge you and other members of the Board to stringently apply IDRC’s conflict of

interest policy to maintain the highest standard of integrity for its Board members and for IDRC

as a whole.

SEATCA calls for the immediate resignation of Mrs. Barbara McDougall as the Chair of

IDRC’s Board of Governors. We also urge the Canadian government to revise its policies to

ensure such conflicts are avoided in future.

Sincerely,

Ms. Bungon Ritthiphakdee

Director

cc: Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon.

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