| by Victor Cherubim
( February 22, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) There have been qualms of alleged involvement in internal politics, by some International Non-Governmental Organisations working in Sri Lanka, by overstepping their mandate. “No way, Norway” has been a clamour ringing in many ears. The propagation of Christian cults forcing bibles in villages is also well known. The stirrings of support among local rights movements is yet another.
With more weight and possibly with fewer pounds expended, some INGO’s have rightly or covertly tried to bring their agendas across the political spectrum, to do much more than influence public opinion of the efficiency and effectiveness of their projects. Stirring unease and unrest is never an option; on perceived notions of oppression. It can hardly be tolerated. A new way of “getting something for something” has been cultivated over time, and there is a legitimate feeling of interference which has caused jitters, particularly at this heightened time of Sri Lanka on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Conference at Geneva, in late February 2012.
There is no doubt that INGO’s and even NGO’s have always walked a tightrope between what they have perceived as their right and what the public bodies have considered as the threshold of tolerance. The ethics of taking sides has never been fully comprehended by each side.
International aid is a complex business and it would be unrealistic to expect anything different. Small wonder that Britain has decided to stop aid to
“developing” India, particularly at a time of tightening purse strings. But ethical obligation to the poor and the needy will always take precedence.
It is very difficult for those of us who are not experts on international aid to arrive at judgments about the work of INGO’s. Part of my concern however, is of the effect of the work of aid agencies in respect of accountability and acceptability. The distinction of aid as between humanitarian aid which is given in response to emergencies and developmental aid for poverty alleviation is clear.
Support from aid agencies such as Oxfam, World Vision, Save the Children, Halo and many other, INGO’s and NGO’s continue to maintain “a clean record of service” to the nation at times of crisis such as the tsunami, during emergencies and in pursuit of activities such as mine clearing and reconstruction work. But recently, there appears a gnawing tendency that putting an end to abuse, is part of their agenda in establishing good governance in Sri Lanka, which may not be within their purview.
INGO’s and NGO’s during the 30 odd year war, grew to several hundred from a few dozen, it is quite understandable that “making global governance more accountable” is becoming more of a necessity for Sri Lanka today.
The way INGO’s do things has to be transparent. That some agencies work with lack of basic goods and services and do a huge amount of good for very little money is commendable. But there is scepticism of the evaluation process of their activities and the service delivery.
I have witnessed the work of Sarvodaya in 1956 at the height of tension between the Federal Party and the Government; bring in volunteers from Jaffna to literally construct a bridge of friendship at Pelawatte. This has to be replicated.
I have also recently seen a Washroom and Lavatory funded by an International NGO at Main Street, Jaffna for Kalamandram, which hardly is used other than on special occasions.
What I wish to get across it that evaluation of funding is an absolute necessity.
At the institutional level the intervention of well resourced foreign NGO’s can impede the development of local self help organisations. On the other hand the provision of basic services for enhancing income generating capacity of individuals and communities often by teaching new skills or introducing new technology can enable governments to divert scarce resources that might have used such services to other more important and cost effective development projects and purposes.
Most often, INGO’s portray themselves as independent, non partisan. But how are they participating in their activities in Sri Lanka to qualify as being truly independent?
There is the innate fear and possibly that their activities are seen as the neo colonial agents of change. They maintain that they are not in the business of regime change, or pursuing a crusade of proseletisation, or wish to be categorised as venture capital entrepreneurs. They stress that they generally profess a charitable purpose in their activities, but at the same time are opposed to abuse of power by defending the rights of the citizen and the freedom of the individual. Sri Lanka rightly feels the latter impinges on their sovereignty and thus there appear a clash of identities.
Most INGO’s and NGO’s claim that they don’t get any funding from governments, but survive on the vibrant and live support of individuals or foundation charities or events both to complement their work and achieve result. The criteria for monitoring who will get their monies or how their funds are distributed should be solely and exclusively on the principle of transparency and value added service to the public. They also claim to work in conjunction with a local network of charities, laying down specific rules that can and cannot obtain their funding.
With their limited resources they are always vigilant to avoid a conflict of interest situation arising which might jeopardise their activities. They try to prioritise issues and seek opportunities to really make a significant contribution
to the lives and times of the public and to really make an appreciable change for the better.
Recently the Government has laid down rules for registration of INGO’s and NGO’s to provide some transparency in their activities. This is long awaited. The application for Registration of INGO’s and NGO’s under the Voluntary Social Services Organisations (Registration & Supervision) Act No. 31 of 1980 as amended by Act No.8 of 1998 has to be reviewed to include initiatives to improve accountability and standards, in terms of quantity and quality of service. The logic is evident that aid agencies need to prove and improve performance in a transparent manner.
( The writer,Freelance Journalist. He can be reached at email:firstname.lastname@example.org )