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October '05: Reigning in the nongovernmental organizations

Reigning in the non-governmental organizations
(October 2005)
This issue of Individu-spotlight focuses on the currently under wraps move by the government to review the work of the non governmental organizations and to ``streamline " them so to speak. While an odd newspaper article or two appeared in the summer before the local elections, it is expected that in November 2005 a bill to curb the NGOs work will be tabled. Individualland.com in it's October spotlight seeks to discuss the issue in an attempt to inform it's readers and seek their support in addressing this challenge. The tragic October 8 th earth quake has clearly shown how non profit organizations can be a source of strength and relief rather than adversaries. To legislate to curb their work is baffling.
A couple of weeks back, a member of individual-land was among the list of invitees of the Law, Justice and Human Rights Division of the Government of Pakistan. In addition to about twenty odd people hailing from various international organizations, including a smattering of donor organizations, this meeting was called to discuss a model of ``facilitation" of NGOs that the Government of Pakistan had in mind. The mood in the room as the guests waited for 40 minutes after the scheduled time of the meeting was on of interest and curiosity as the invitation letter stated that the Government seeked to facilitate the work of the non governmental organizations and was eager to interact with the donors on this issue. After a wait of 40 minutes, the Secretary Law, Justice and Human Rights Division entered , accompanied by the female head of the Human Rights Wing of the Ministry and another gentleman that no one deemed fit to introduce nor did he speak.

The Secretary, after the usual welcome remarks, declared that over the years the non governmental organizations have sprung up and some of them were doing a lot of good work. The Secretary attributed the mushroom growth of NGOs primarily to economic conditions as there were very few employment opportunities and with the entrepreneurial environment non existent in Pakistan, the best bet for the educated person was either to join an NGO or open up one. However, fearing that this might be taken as criticism of these non governmental organizations, the Honorable Secretary was quick to point that this was a welcome step and that presently the Government looked upon the work of the NGOs with approval contrary to the past . Previously, he declared, there was a disdain among the government circles for the work of the NGOs. In keeping with this new found respect and appreciation of the work of NGOs, the Law Ministry developed a proposal to ``affiliate" organizations with the Ministry in order to ``provide support to them" .It was emphasized that the proposal was to affiliate organization and not register them . This affiliation would be voluntarily and according to the Secretary 140 organizations have to date affiliated with them. It was interesting to hear the Secretary declare that ``of course" the large NGOs who have ``become too big like the HRCP and the Aurat Foundation etc "would not affiliate with them. But that was not a problem since the government was not interested in them anyways. The government wanted to ``support" the upcoming organizations who can work ``for Pakistan."

It was shared with the twenty plus participants of the meeting that this was an idea in progress and that no specific guidelines/forms etc have been developed to date. The NGO was required to write to the Ministry, give all the financial and program details, information about the thematic and geographical areas that they were working on and ``affiliate " with the Ministry. The Ministry then would share the list of concerned organizations with the donors who should then fund them because the Pakistan Government had declared them kosher.

The participants ,being no government servants and thus very slow at understanding new dynamic ideas, could not understand as to what did the affiliation really mean? Didn't the government understand that the donor organizations had their own means of assessing and evaluating organizations and their capacity to deliver before even a penny was handed out? The Secretary was quick to point out that the donors could not possibly understand this as most of the organizations were essentially paper organizations or fake organizations. The Secretary patiently explained to the participants that since registration of NGOs is so easy and cheap ranging from Rs 550 to Rs 1800 that any Tom, Dick and Harry could get an organization registered in no time at all.

One of the participants asked two very important questions to which the Secretary could not provide a satisfactory answer. The participant asked that firstly if the existing registration process under the Societies Act was so ineffective and useless then what was the use of such a registration? Shouldn't the government be looking at how to make the existing registration process more effective and of value rather than coming up with new processes? Another question that the participant put was that since the registration process , as the government itself admitted, was ineffective, than what was the value of coming up with new mechanisms? Won't it be a duplication which is a big No NO in this era of lean and effective governance Citi Bank style? Prompt came the answer of the Secretary `` Sometimes duplication is necessary"

The Secretary also further went on to explain that this step should not be viewed with skepticism as this was actually to facilitate the organizations. Elaborating, he declared that a number of organizations work in far flung areas where they need facilitation and cooperation which the district governments do not give them. However, if an organization that is registered with the Federal Law Ministry goes to the area, the District Government would be obliged to cooperate with the organization. So much for devolution of power , making the local tier effective and the principle of subsidarity. The Secretary also declared that these organizations were actually insincere with Pakistan because they cry hoarse when a Pakistani woman is raped but ``where are these non governmental organizations when a 12 year old Kashmiri girl in Indian held Kashmir is raped? Why doesn't Asma Jehangir fight her case?"

Some newspaper in the summers had reported about how the Law Ministry, the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry and the Finance Ministry have been en-tasked to come up with legislation to regulate the work of the non governmental organizations who were getting too big for their boots. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister, the Honorable Dr. Sher Afgan Niazi, was entasked to dust off a draft proposal that he had developed a couple of years back but which he did not get a chance to introduce. It was shelved but in keeping with the new requirements of maintaining an effective check on the non profit organizations, this proposal is being looked at again and according to some reports by the end of this year, a legislation will be enacted that would ensure that all the non governmental organizations toe the line.

A couple of days back a new English daily ,The Post also reported that the intelligence agencies had also submitted a report to the President stating that most of the foreign funded organizations were working against the ``national interests and were only using this money to arrange seminars and international conferences" Individual-land agrees with the intelligence agencies that these international conferences were being held with much frequency and it was indeed a waste of resources. But, hey wait a minute. Isn't this what the Government of Pakistan is doing? Didn't the government of Pakistan just organize an international conference on violence against women where dignitaries from 82 countries participated at the cost of Pakistani tax payers money? Individual-land also agrees with the intelligence agencies report that these organizations could be working `against the national interests,' probably because most people working in these organizations do not know what national interest is? Their definition of national interest is actually people's interest and how their interests, will and aspirations can be articulated in an environment that is peaceful, where there is religious tolerance, where all citizens are equal, where there is rule of law ,where we coexist with our neighbors and where all citizens have access to basic provisions of life like education, water and health etc. This of course is not national interest as is defined by the Government of Pakistan so of course they are working against it.

Indeed the NGOs need to be curbed for daring to introduce such radical concepts of good governance and the first to be regulated should be the country's biggest NGO that is getting the most foreign money and who is arranging the most elaborate international conferences which amounts to nothing. The name of that NGO is the Government of Pakistan.




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