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Sumitra Visvanathan Resigns As Executive Director Of WAO

The embattled former executive director says that the mass resignation of previous exco members in January was prompted partly by her efforts to overhaul WAO’s fundraising model to ensure the organisation’s sustainability.

Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) executive director Sumitra Visvanathan speaks at the Malaysia Women and Girls Forum (MWGF) 2022 organised by UNFPA Malaysia on December 15, 2022. Photo by MWGF Secretariat.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 — Sumitra Visvanathan has confirmed she formally tendered her resignation as executive director of the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) last Wednesday, as reported by the Malay Mail.

Sumitra said she resigned in protest after being repeatedly suspended without justification, and alleged that WAO staff members were prohibited from being in contact with her or they would face disciplinary action, with the possibility of termination.

Last month, Sumitra told Ova she was fighting attempts to suspend her from office, after an interim exco was appointed, following the mass resignations of the previous exco in January.

Out of the eight exco members previously, only Tan Hei Zel, who was vice president, did not quit.

However, Sumitra argued that the VP ceased to have any authority or power under WAO’s constitution after the president resigned.

She alleged that Tan “co-opted” WAO members to serve on a new exco following the resignations; an act, according to her, that is in violation of WAO’s constitution and in breach of the Societies Act 1962.

Sumitra said she was suspended by Tan pending investigations last February 2, after she attempted on January 30 to call for an annual general meeting (AGM) to elect new exco members as advised by the Registrar of Societies (RoS).

The embattled former executive director said that the mass resignation was prompted partly by her efforts to overhaul WAO’s fundraising model to ensure the organisation’s sustainability.

She said WAO suffered from inadequate fundraising and that while she was trying to address the situation, she was impeded by various issues related to staff management, governance standards, staff treatment and financial management.

WAO’s “co-opted exco” currently comprises Tan, who remained as VP; WAO founder and former executive director, Ivy Josiah; former WAO president Meera Samanther; Maria Erica Van Wynen; Divvyananthini Manoharan; Majidah Hashim; and Shoba Aiyar.

In a statement released last March 9, the “co-opted exco” said they had sought legal advice and met with the RoS to ensure the continuity of the organisation.

Sumita disagreed, saying that their actions since the mass resignations contravened the advice of the RoS.

She said WAO must elect a new leadership to replace the interim exco or it will run the risk of being deregistered. 

The “co-opted exco” said members have been informed that the 41st AGM is scheduled for April 28 and a formal notice will be issued at an appropriate time.

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