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Opinion

June 20, 2015

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Regulating INGOs

Known for making startling disclosures and ordering new inquiries every other day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is once again in the news. This time he has launched a tirade against international NGOs (INGOs) for their alleged involvement in anti-state activities. In a rather clichéd statement, he also vowed not to allow these elements to succeed in their “nefarious” designs – though several of them have been functioning here for decades.
Without going into specific details or producing any charge-sheets, the minister makes a generic claim that these organisations are crossing the ‘red line’ and causing more harm than good to the country. In fact, the matter has gone beyond condemnation and resulted in a ban on INGOs like Save the Children and others, which then got temporary relief and have been allowed to continue with their work for a particular period. During this time they will have to get registered according to the guidelines that are being put together at the moment by the government.
Keeping in view the international pressure the government had to face after this latest move, this conditional permission appears to be nothing more than a face-saving exercise. A proposal is also on the cards to hand over more responsibilities to the interior ministry regarding monitoring of INGOs and minimise reliance on the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) which works under the finance ministry. At the moment the EAD has spared only one section officer to deal with all the INGOs present in the country.
The question here is whether all these INGOs have been working here without any relevant laws in place. Second, is it okay to level charges of anti-state activities against these organisations without evidence and put the lives of their staff at risk? Would it not have been better to charge-sheet only those against whom the government has irrevocable evidence? Similarly, the question about how to regulate the NGOs and INGOs and promote a

culture of transparency in the sector is quite relevant. Even if they are not involved in unwanted activities, they need to have proper management, financial reporting and recruitment systems in place.
The answer to the first question is that there are elaborate laws on how to register and monitor these organisations but just like in the case of other laws of the land these are hardly implemented. The INGOs that would sign open-ended MOUs with the EAD were asked to sign agreements under a regularisation policy in 2013 and follow elaborate procedures. So far, the division has been able to register only 19 INGOs under this procedure.
A cursory look at the findings of a study on NGOs, also referred to as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), can help clarify things to a certain extent. Though it talks mostly about local NGOs, it is reflective of the whole sector as many of these work as partners of INGOs or receive funds from them.
Titled ‘A Baseline Study on Institutional Capacity of Civil Society Organizations in Pakistan’, the study has been carried out by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). It states: “Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Pakistan are usually characterised by invisible governing bodies, single person decision-making, underdeveloped systems, weak regulatory compliance and diffused accountability. Historically, the focus of capacity building efforts has been on enabling the organisation to achieve the targets and objectives supported by a donor rather than on broad institutional development.”
The study, funded by USAID and based on a sample of 500 organisations from across the country, also observes that the majority of these organisations faced no real external regulatory or state pressure to put their houses in order.
Coming back to the issue of INGOs, it is a better idea to not level serious allegations without proof. Instead, the state must make INGOs comply strictly with the terms and conditions they have already agreed to in their MoUs.
For example, the draft MoU available with the EAD states that INGOs must use money, goods and services emanating from foreign sources for its specified activities. Besides, they must obtain prior written permission from the government for visits to prohibited areas by expatriate personnel, respect religious injunctions and cultural norms in Pakistan, offer accounts for annual audit by chartered accountants registered in Pakistan, not indulge in distribution of any material causing or likely to cause religious resentment in the area of its activities and so on.
Compliance with the condition to inform provincial governments and concerned local governments/district authorities regarding their programmes/projects also minimises the chances of INGOs being involved in clandestine activities.
If these requirements are fulfilled and other required procedures are followed strictly, the state will detect irregularities and will be able to provide irrevocable evidence as well. What is happening right now is that the state has no idea of who is doing what – and where. It is quite helpless against the tremendous influence enjoyed by these entities that bring in tons of dollars into the country. The interior minister’s statement that INGOs try to influence government by employing relatives of politicians, judges, military officers, journalists etc says it all.
The writer is a staffer at The News.
Email: [email protected]

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