Report of Regional Seminar on Transparency, Accountability and Responsibility (Dumka | Nov. 28 – 29, 2017)

Report of Church Leaders Seminar On Transparency, Accountability and Responsibility (TAR)

November 28-29, 2017 |Dumka, Santal Parganas, Jharkhand

Organised by: National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), Christian Service Agency (CSA) and Santalia Council of Churches (SCC)

DAY I, SESSION I

The TAR Conference was initiated by the Grace of the Lord, with a session of Devotion, led jointly by Revd Francis Hansdak’ and Revd Roshan Hansdak’.

The Keynote Address to the Conference was also delivered by Revd Roshan Hansdak’.

Then Revd Caesar David deliberated upon “the Historical Necessity of Strengthening Good Practices in Our Churches and Organisations”. He emphasised upon the necessity of stringent upkeep of Ethics and Values in these challenging times, when a focused invigilatory approach is being adopted by the Government, and the FCRA Compliant Bank A/cs. of many Organisations are being closed due to detection of irregularities. He explained, to upkeep Ethics and Values, our Churches and CBOs need to do no new things, as these are the same set of Christian Values of Honesty, Love, Kindness and Integrity, we are supposed to adhere in all of our Activities. This of course doesn’t mean that the Church and its affiliate CBOs have been lax in upkeep of Ethics and Values, but merely is indicative of the Grey Areas of Ethics, which is open to opportunistic interpretations to suit the situation at hand. As an example he cited the rampant but inappropriate use of pirated proprietary softwares in our Churches, instead of Freewares and Sharewares.

There is also a shyness on the part of us in acknowledging corruption in our Churches. But denying the existence of corruption is doing disservice to our Churches in actuality. Contrary to the popular perception that, corruption comprises solely of monetary malpractices, Revd Caesar explained, there are various types of corruption involving Power Abuses, Illegalities, Handling of Donations, Procurement Acceleration, Sexual Abuses and Favours, Manipulations and Collusions etc. which erodes the Values, stems the Church growth, perpetuates inefficiencies, and lessens the faith upon the Church. All these factors ultimately compounds towards a weak Church. In contrast, adherence to the Global indicators of Ethics, Freedom and Transparency leads to a Sustainable and Strengthened Church.

After the informative session Revd Caesar invited queries and suggestions from the participants and requested all to interact freely without any reservations, as this is essential for the overall wellbeing of our Churches. In response to a question regarding the best choice of strategies for addressing a task at hand, he explained the types of ethical dilemmas one may face, with the examples of a Relief Organisation delivering its services to the needy, across the obstacles posed by possible hostile external agents, such as Bandits, Militias etc. In this particular case, there may be more than one good options available to the Agency, each of which may or may not involve compromises of varying degree. One may decide to choose the lesser evil, and the Means to achieve the End may or may not be justified or even noble. The Agency in that case is guided by compliance with the Absolute Value, which in this case is protection of the lives of the needy. Clearly, the choice of strategy depends on the prevailing reality on a case to case basis, and there are no fixed set of thumb rules. But one good guiding principle is to ascertain, whether the Solutions provided by the Agency are compliant with the Global and Biblical Standards of Ethics. Regarding the question of Degree of Transparency preferable, the Revd explained, that Transparency should be treated as an intrinsic day to day spontaneous issue, which should come effortlessly, and individual integrity regarding this carries over to collective integrity.

Discussing upon the enquiry that, whether Transparency should have any pragmatic limits, the participants variously opined that – “excessive” transparency may harm the entity in question, and thus defeat the original cause; transparency should be such that it must not bear unwell for the Church; transparency should not be absolute, but should be related to the consideration, transparency for whom and why. Revd Emmanuel Chitrakar opined that, for Churches transparency boils down to the trustworthiness of the Pastors, the Church Leaders and their families. Revd Roshan Hansdak’ asked, what are the contemporary necessities of Good Governance of our Churches. Revd Caesar responded that, though there is a prevailing oppressive atmosphere, still that should not be any excuse for a lax attitude. There are Legal Compliance Requirements in place, which must be met by our Churches and CBOs, and for that, Internationally proven Best Practices and Principles of Good Governance needs to be adopted and implemented.

At the conclusion of the informative session, Mr Joyraj Eric Tudu, Hny General Secretary, SCC, thanked Revd Caesar David and other resource persons, and NCCI Leadership for availing such a wonderful opportunity for the Church Leaders from the Santal Parganas, to update themselves with the latest information and standards of Good Governance prevailing worldwide.

Then the participants went for a brief half an hour exercise in group discussion regarding their opinions and perceptions in relation to the principles of Transparency, Accountability and Responsibility, and their scope of applicability in the constituent Churches of the SCC.

After half an hour, the 3 groups of participants gathered back to present their collective findings.

The GD Findings pertaining to the CNI participants was presented by Mr Anil Murmu. They seemed to be of the opinion –

  1. a) Though maintaining Transparency should be a thumb rule in our Churches, not everything regarding Policy Matters be made totally transparent.
  2. b) Regarding Financial Matters, compliance with the governmental norms should be attained, but required disclosure should not be made to all and sundry; only authorised Officials from the appropriate Govt. Departments should be permitted access to the necessary information.

While discussion regarding matters arising out of the GD reporting, Revd Roshan Hansdak’ stated the importance of using the correct terminologies while maintaining Books of Accounts and Reports, as sensitive and inappropriate terms (e.g. Christmas Gift) can land the Church in unnecessary trouble in these days.

The GD reporting on behalf of the participants from the NELC was presented by Mr Sebastian Barabbas Hansdak’. They stressed the importance of implementation of these policies of TAR in our families first, without any exceptions or excuses.

For our Churches –

  1. a) Transparency should be maintained, but upto a limit. Beyond that the Church leaders should be careful to truthfulness and prevent any breech of secrecy.
  2. b) Accountability should not be meant and exercised only in the temporal sense, but for Churches, Spiritual / Moral Accountability must be there, towards our Lord God and to the people. It is observed that, selection of appropriate incumbent to the deserving Posts often doesn’t happen. The mindset here should be – What I can give to the Church, instead of, What I can get.
  3. c) By Responsibility, we all must understand what the term means, and go beyond its literal sense. If there’s any mistake, which is inadvertent, there’s no shame in admitting fault of the self.

They also were of the opinion, Discussions like the present one should be attended by Church Leaders, its Office Bearers and Laity alike. Workshops like these should not be deemed as run of the mill ´Do’s´, where hastily cobbled up delegations are to be sent, often just for the sake of participation.

The GD reporting for the participants from the MCI was presented by Revd Emmanuel Chitrakar. They were of the opinion that, Transparency without any limits is a must, but only in some specific cases. Situations where outside agencies are involved and who may be harbouring hostile intentions towards our Churches, total transparency may prove to be counterproductive in such cases. For example, the local IB personnel frequently visits our church on one or another pretext, and that too, without any notice. They all have a typical fault finding attitude. Often they would want to know the population of the Christians in and around Pakur. Preferably, Transparency should be associated with peoples connected with specific related structures and disciplines.

DAY I, SESSION II (Post Lunch Session)

The participants welcomed among them, eminent expert on Good Governance, Revd Daniel Sudip Das. He will be our Resource person for rest of the Conference. Revd Das thanked the NCCI, the SCC and the participating Churches for deciding to convene a Workshop on topics like the TAR in the Santal Parganas. These topics are of utmost importance, according to him, because, gone are the days, when Pastors did only ecclesial duties. The times are such now that, they should know the Law. We should be knowing the changing times… Our Land is changing fast for us, the Christians. Citing examples from his youth, the Revd said, in his youth, he was hopeful of being able to bring in Change. He worked under leaders, some of whom were good, while some others were not. He learnt from their errors, not to repeat the same. Change is a process, which necessarily needs power. But if God brings us into such position, we should be able to make those decisions. Times are changing, and many things needs to be reconsidered. For example, it’s nowadays accepted worldwide that, Disputes should be determined by the Law. Here Law obviously means the Law of the Land we reside in. So, the Ordination of a priest can not be cancelled, if they take the Church to the Court. We should be careful, that the times are changing… Nowadays, even a repeated emphasis on the “Blood” in the phrase “Blood of Christ” can be troublesome for a Christian Priest! So, our languages and terminologies are to be changed / modified according to the changing times.

Talking of Transparency in sharing of information, it cannot be arbitrary. According to the RTI Act, u/s. 6 & 7, one can apply, but, only to the Governmental entities. The Church is not one. We are talking about Churches, CBOs, NGOs here. In these scenarios, only the respective Members are rightful to ask for information.

NGOs are bound to be transparent if they are Aided by the Government.

According to the Disclosure Act, u/s. 10, during the AGM, the detailed information of the Board of the organisation, is kept well in the view of the attendees, usually. The AGM too, need not know the nitty-gritties, but it is well within its right to know, Why an action is necessary?

There are very clear and detailed codes of procedure to go around business in any organisation. It is the people… us… who brought Corruption to it. As renowned journalist, Mr Arun Shourie put it in his book, Harvesting Our Souls, falsified accounts, falsified events, falsified achievements, falsified numbers… Even Pastors with scrupulous morals, evade taxation while purchasing of furniture & fixtures, to save few paltry rupees… The next Sunday, the same may be preaching – Give what is due to Caesar. It is clearly stated in the FCR Act, 2010, that Foreign Contributions are to be accepted for earmarked specific purposes only. A totally separate account for this needs to be maintained. The Local Contributions are to be received in another account, and under no circumstances diversions should be made for non-intended purposes.

After the introductory interaction, with the aid of PowerPoint Presentation, Revd Das proceeded to elaborate the Principles of Transparency, Accountability & Responsibility

( पारदर्शकता, जवाबदेही व जिम्मेदारी )

The major salient points discussed by Revd Das on Day One, were: –

  1. To understand the concept of TAR
  2. To understand Church Governance
  3. To understand Compliance & Rules related to it (for Trusts, and Societies)
  4. Looking into the Basics of NGO Finance Management, FCRA Rules
  5. Best Practices to follow for our Organisations.

The other topics discussed in brief, are the Essentials of a Trust, such as the Founder and other Legal requirements.

Then after a brief introductory overview of Societies, relevant Central and State Acts, Legal requirements and instruments of incorporation etc., the proceedings of the Conference were adjourned for the day.

DAY II, SESSION I, (29/11/2017)

The proceedings of the Second Day of the Conference began with morning Devotion, led by elder Mr Simeon Chhotu Soren, and Revd Pradip Hansdak’. In his deliberation, the Revd emphasised upon the need of caution and preparedness in these changing times. He said, the Law is usually good for the people, but on our part, we need to catch up with compliance. No ad-hocism, no notional reporting of Events and Achievements can be acceptable anymore. Preparedness begins with every one of us.

In his speech Mr Jianthaolung Gonmei, Executive Secretary, Youth Concerns at the NCCI, expressed his joy to be able to be with the Adivasis of the Santal Parganas, as he too belongs to the Rongmei Naga tribe. He described the potential and capability of India, which is going to be the country with the youngest population (65%) by the year 2020. He described the Naga customs regarding the young, which are not very dissimilar to ours, the Central Indian Adivasis. The customary educational segregation of the very young begins around 12-13 years of their age, when they begin to live in the Youth Dormitory called the Morung (similar to our Gitić Oṛaḱ or Ghoṭul), where under the supervision of the Village Chief and other Village Officers, they learn Traditions, Culture and Social Values of the Naga, and get initiated to the remaining good aspects of the chivalrous Naga Warrior System.

Mr. Gonmei said, that in the Naga Christian communities, this Youth Dormitory is still very much related to the preservation and propagation of the Naga Social System. However, the popular perception of the Youth is that the Church is not doing enough in this regard, or to address the Youths’ concerns. In the other side, the Grey haired Church elders think of the Young as of being not capable enough to bear responsibilities and contribute now and here. As a result of this mismatch of thinking between the generations, the young people are slowly drifting away from the Church, as there is paucity of space for them to contribute, apart from the Youth Fellowship, even the leadership of that too is selected by the grey hairs. There are not enough young Pastors, almost everyone is above fifty. As a direct result of this crisis at the roots, there is a dearth of young church leaders at the level of the Council of Churches. So he exhorted, let us put the Church in a position, so as a community to nurture our youth as our present leaders, and discontinue with the mindset, which always defers their potential by considering them as our “future” leaders, merely as a backup plan for the present day leadership.

Mr. Joyraj Eric Tudu thanked Mr Gonmei for his inspirational sharing of ideas, which sure will be of help in our part of the country, where average age of Church leaders is beyond sixty. He said, there is an urgent need to undertake Leadership Development Programme for promoting the Young as the Leaders of now and here.

After a brief tea break, Revd Daniel Sudip Das continued with the concluding portion of his presentation. He opined, the good time to contribute in prime capacity is 30 to 50 years. After that, one should move on to become Consultants, on their own volition, and not consider selves as the vanguards of ushering in changes anymore.

The first topic of the morning was:

Finance Management.

It concerns comparative analysis of How money ‘is’ handled, and how money ‘should be’ handled. Revd Das explained the component procedures of Finance Management with examples – Accounting, Auditing, Budget Control, Compliance with the law etc. He explained the duties and responsibilities of Finance Controllers/Directors, a good one is a must for any modern organisation. Apart from their regular duties, they are the people chiefly concerned with – How to ‘get’ funds, and, How to ‘utilise’ the funds.

There are two aspects of efficient finance management in our Churches –

  1. Faithful handling
  2. Prudent handling.

While the former attitude encompasses the thinking that, This is not our money, it is our Lord’s money, the latter attitude helps us beget 15 coins, 20 coins even… from the 10 coins that we are entrusted with by our Master, the Lord God.

We need to remain Faithful vis-à-vis the Lord God, the Self, Employees, Donors, Founders and the Beneficiaries. So, we should always remain vigilant to avoid misappropriation of funds for personal benefits and lavishness. Contentment is a great reward in itself, who needs lavishness? We should be careful and nurturing of our Employees so that they can avail of all the statutory benefits like the Providend Fund under EPFA, 1952, Insurance, ESIC, Employees’ Pension Scheme, 1995, Gratuity etc. and more. We should be benign and subdued, so as to accept directions from our Donors. We must also remain faithful to the will and objectives of our Founders, so as to perpetuate their Legacy through our service.

Regarding the question of integrity, the Revd explained the Four tools of Accounting, the essential must haves and the also good to haves – Books of Accounts, Subsidiary Books, Statutory Audit (which is compulsory), Internal Audit (which is helpful for the former)…

Regarding Taxation, the Revd explained the step by step compliance requirements for a Trust / Society – Sec.12.A, 80.G, 35.A(C), FCRA Compliant Bank A/c. etc. In response to questions, he also touched over the necessities of regular furnishing of PAN, Address and TDS details of all the Trustees.. The subject matter of Investment by NGOs, delegated usage of taxation details of higher councils by subordinate pastorates.. also the impact of GST Rules on NGOs and Charitable Trusts.. as the paid for Goods and Trainings be henceforth taxable etc. On conclusion of this extremely informative session, the participants profusely thanked Revd Dr Das, CSA, SCC and NCCI, for keeping the Santal Parganas in their minds and prayers, so that such a wonderful event could be arranged for the Churches here.

DAY II, SESSION II (Post Lunch Session)

In this conclusive session, the participants shared their experiences and suggestions with others. Three teachers from the Jidato Mission School, MCI, Pakur, thanked the Organisers for the information they were able to gather in these two days. They were allegedly subject to harassment from the local officials regarding Compliance related non-issues. Now as a direct result of this informative workshop, they will be in a better position to tackle the nuisance. Knowledge is Power.

The representative from the Mohulpahari Christian Hospital, NELC, Dumka, thanked the organisers, and stated that, they are following good accountability practices, where maintaining Day Books, other Statutory Books is a must. He said that, the present conference enriched them further to competently tackle various issues regarding compliance.

Mr Simeon Chhotu Soren reported on behalf of the Good Shepherd’s Church Pastorate Committee, CNI, Barharwa. He elaborated the Assessment, Budgeting, Book Keeping, Internal Auditing and Reporting procedures followed by them for their yearly activities. Similar, but more stringent procedures are followed at two Schools situated in the pastorate.

Mr Pradip Das reported on behalf of the Jidato Mission Church Pastorate Committee, MCI, Pakur. Different reporting requirements from different donors are complied with, maintaining transparency with all the stakeholders. Responsibility is collectively met by division of labour, which is again evaluated at regular monthly review meetings. He said, the FCRA norms and other relevant compliance particulars are checked for at least twice a week to keep themselves updated.

Mr Joyraj Eric Tudu thanked the organisations sharing their experiences, and said, these state of preparedness regarding Finance Management is excellent and inspiring news for other similar organisations. He also emphasised that, now we need to take our preparedness regarding TAR beyond Monetary Terms.

He then invited suggestions from the participants, regarding our collective Road Ahead: next 6 months.

Dr Esmael Murmu from the Santal Theological College, Maharo, NELC said, their College follows good monetary practices meeting the statutory requirements, but is budgeted for by the Synod, therefore the Foreign Contributions towards its running is not direct, but is through Church. Dr Murmu said that, Theory and Practice are to be made compliant. Office Bearers should be more responsible and preferably present in meetings like the present one. There is lack of Transparency of the preferred degree, nor there are adequate Second line of Leadership nurtured and readied. Organising this type of programmes more and more for our Churches could be of help to address these urgent issues.

Mr Simeon Chhotu Soren said that, we learned a lot from this programme. As our three constituent Churches have many pastorates / schools / hostels / hospitals etc., further Church specific training programmes can prove to be of immense benefit to our Churches.

Revd Caesar David thanked all present for their openness and hearty participation. He said, as we all have suggested aplenty, indeed many things needs to be done. To prioritise our resource deployment, assessment needs to be done – which are the things practically feasible right now. He suggested – the SCC Member Churches can do small but effective things by themselves, like an Internal Guidebook for Checklists and Implementation of Principles of Good Governance. The Member Churches can form a small committee, based upon, say, 5 Action Points, along with periodic review and discussion meetings, so that other areas can emulate the SCC-SP example.

Revd Emmanuel Chitrakar thanked the NCCI and SCC for the opportunity and TAR suggestions. He said as Christians we need to take these suggestions to each of our Ministries and Institutions. SCC is a capable Church Council now. There’s a need for incorporating these TAR components into the EDS mechanism. TOT can also be planned on these topics for our three Churches.

A participant from the Mohulpahari Circle, NELC, Dumka, said the member churches and SCC, all must strive for making the concept of “Youth as Present Leaders” a reality.

Revd Roshan Hansdak’ thanked the NCCI and the SCC for this wonderful gift of a meeting. He said, looking Top to Bottomwards is our usual approach, but time has arrived to look from Bottom to Upwards. To go level up from Church level as our foundation level; it will make the Church strong as a whole. SCC can facilitate this process at the Church level, since the top echelons of our Churches are perturbed and are under pressure regarding information dissemination.

Summing Up and Vote of Thanks was done by Mr Joyraj Eric Tudu in the concluding moments of the Church Leaders’ Conference. He was hopeful regarding the Challenges and Opportunities lying before us. He emphasised upon strengthening the collaboration between the NCCI and the SCC. A mechanism should preferably be put in place, wherein Reports and Recommendations are to be shared with our Churches. SCC will, in coming times, will focus variously on – the Grassroot Churches of the region, even the Free Santal Churches needs to be considered; Role Renewal for Youth and Women; Infusion of youthful energy into our Churches; Building Mutual Understanding and Closer Fellowship in Christ among our Churches.

Prepared and Reported by:
Mr. Tonol Murmu
Dumka.

 

Participants of Regional Seminar on Transparency, Accountability and Responsibility (Dumka | Nov. 28 – 29, 2017)

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