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‘There must be voices of reason in every society’

  • Published at 01:37 am October 26th, 2017
‘There must be voices of reason in every society’

Why have we seen a drastic fall in the funds donated by foreign donors and development partners for NGOs?

Flow of funds largely depends on the global economy because business organisations, donor agencies and charitable organisations donate funds from their profits. Some countries who donate money may have been affected by Brexit and the recession.

There are allegations that the government has taken a strict line against NGOs, especially since gaining lower-middle income status.

In the context of Bangladesh, there is no doubt that NGOs have made a positive contribution in helping the government in its plans - the five year plan, MDGs and all that. The government also acknowledges this fact. If that is true, then the question is why have such restrictive policies been imposed on the NGOs? The NGOs have proved to be effective partners in development over the years. Their role should be recognised. Their facilities should be increased. The more control you impose, the more likely it is that misuse of fund will increase. Security concern is a big issue, that is true and we are living in a world post 9/11, the Holey Artisan Attack but these can be dealt with in other ways. The tendency of tightening control on the whole sector is very unfortunate. There should be appropriate regulatory policies, not an overall control mechanism. NGOs have played a role in poverty alleviation and have a share in the success stories as they worked from different sectors from health, education to sanitation. As a result, in many indicators, we are ahead of our neighbour India. That diversity in work, innovative approaches cannot be initiated by the government alone as it is immovable in its stance during development work. A government should have facilities and good practices. They could have used the experience NGOs have in working in large scale scale projects for bigger achievements.

The government has taken a stricter stance towards NGOs, alleging they work as a pressure group and criticise the government, mainly during the parliamentary elections. What is your opinion about that?

If the government really does development work and is involved in no corruption, then they do not need to bother with what some NGOs are saying. If the government and political parties think that NGOs can manipulate people’s thinking pattern and choice, then this is a misconception.  People know and understand what the achievements of the government are. If any NGO tries to spread propaganda, it will not work. I think it is a matter of concerned parties’ sense of insecurity. Those governments, who believe in accountability and transparency, should also be open to criticism. There must be voices of reason in every society. It strengthens the state’s capacity. If we cannot accommodate that spirit we will fail to establish a country in the spirit of the Liberation War.  If the government thinks that everybody will fall in line with whatever it wants, it will be an authoritarian state.

NGO insiders alleged that they worked hand-in-hand with the government to implement MDGs but their role is not clarified by the government. Should their role be clarified for the SDGs?

I do not know why their participation has not been defined yet. But I hope the government will do that as soon as possible. If the NGOs are not allowed to be involved in development work, I think it will be difficult to achieve other development goals.

What are the impacts on the rights and advocacy based NGOs because of some stringent rules under the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act which have led to a funding crisis?

This law is creating a negative impact. The NGO funding is shrinking in some cases. In certain places small local NGOs are not getting funds and proposed NGOs are not getting permissions. To make the democratic country’s organs function properly the watchdog bodies have roles to play. What the rights bodies are doing is also helping the government. For example, if the NGOs bring the issue of torture to the front and inform the law enforcing agencies, judiciary and common people, it will help in stopping torture. We should not look at them as opponents.

How to deal with terror financing allegations against NGOs?

We need intelligence from the law enforcers and also surveillance on the suspected NGOs . The most important thing is transparency in the NGO sector. They should be accountable for the use of funds they receive from foreign countries. The government should strictly monitor their organisational work, like if they are audited properly and if the board is working according to the rules. Unnecessary blanket control over the NGOs however, will send a wrong signal to the international community. They should implement the law properly rather than imposing a tight controlling mechanism.