Sunday, 19 January 2014

Do we really need NGOs in Pakistan?

The acronym NGOs (Non Government Organisations) also called NPOs (Non Profit Organisations) has become a household word in our lives. Everyone is absolutely convinced that NGOs are working for our betterment. Just like hand sanitizers, diapers and poultry chicken, life without NGOs was not only possible but was even better. Few questions remained unanswered for a long time like how does the business of NGOs work? Why are these NGOs so concerned about the betterment of our poor? Are there any ulterior motives behind their ostensibly noble agenda? Try researching anything against NGOs and you will be surprised that there is nothing to be found on the internet, even if you are just looking for something to start an academic discussion on NGOs. Are these NGOs so impeccable and flawless? Is role of media and Govt acceptable towards projection of NGOs? Did it occur to anyone that do we really need so many NGOs in Pakistan? Just look at the unreal number of recognized organizations working in Pakistan. . There must be equal or greater number waiting to be recognized and sweating hard to earn some aid grants. These are few questions for which there are no exact answers.  However, an effort has been made to touch upon this issue to answer few unanswered questions.

            Firsthand experience should come handy explaining their way of working based on personal interaction with NGOs and donors. The work of an NGO begins with little “social work” in a community and if the proprietors of NGOs convince the “Donors” by showing enough zeal and fulfilling pre-requisites of structural framework, they are given non-refundable grants to increase their circle of influence in the garb of good community work. As the work base increases, so does the nuisance of that NGO. Just like the principles of demand and supply, a proprietor with greater consumer base starts calling the shots on his own terms.

            Why donors are so compassionate towards poor and deprived of Pakistan? We live in times where correct information is of real value. All those who are literate and have access to internet are registered on the internet through emails and social websites like facebook, twitter, myspace etc. Google, facebook and many other organizations have inked contracts with FBI, CIA and other US govt agencies for providing access to profiles of their subscribers on required basis. This way, the agencies do not have to plant agents on ground to spy on a suspect living at the other end of globe. Just get access to his social website activities and his personality profiling will become a piece of cake. Whereas those living in rural parts of the third world countries are not so easily accessible. For political, economic and security reasons, exact information on these people can act as a valuable asset. For instance, skilled manpower working in Pasroor (Sialkot) making quality footballs and surgery instruments, are mostly underage children. Adidas (sports ware company) and Alispo International (Surgical instrument company) would like that manpower to make football/ surgical instruments for their franchises working in Pakistan or they would raise the issue of child or bonded labour. For this they require services of their loyal subjects, the local NGOs. First these local companies are blackmailed and then black listed for good. Similarly, US govt has conditioned a huge amount of aid to Pakistan to the release of Dr Shakeel Afridi who assisted them in capture of Osama Bin Laden under the garb of polio vaccination which is yet another facet of NGOs.  

Government of Pakistan does not provide guidelines or directly monitor NGO activities, NGOs just register under "Societies Registration Act of 1860" or "Voluntary social welfare agencies ordinance 1961". The guidelines for NGO operations and activities are generally provided by the donors or funding agencies just like IMF and World Bank dictating terms to govt of Pakistan because “Beggars are not choosers”. Foreign organizations e.g. United Nations have their offshoots like Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF). Highly paid executives of this sub organization are the noble face of these donors in the country. These executives are locals who hail from lower middle class of the society and they are paid lucrative pay packages. They get addicted to executive way of life and begin to live and move about like royalties. Quality control audits are also performed by these local representatives of the donors. The field trips for audits etc are organized like those of ministers or high govt officials in our country. Warm hospitalities intercede the audits.

The funds are transferred to NGOs by donor agencies through banking or other channels. A third party or external audit is also conducted to have a check and balance on the utilization of funds. There are relaxations in tax procedures for NGOs under Income Tax ordinance of Pakistan; however, international NGOs are exempted from tax laws of Pakistan. These NGOs are bound to be insured and insurance companies make hay under the relaxed rules and regulations on the subject. So it is evident that govt is doing all it can to allow the business of these NGOs to flourish and committing the crime of inaction.

            Just like East India Company, the NGOs approach us with an innocent motto of     “ Rural Reforms and Social Development”. These NGOs mainly target poor and deprived segments of our society particularly minorities. Their vulnerabilities and social conditions offer a perfect hunting ground for NGOs. They hire young, educated and needy girls for field work. These girls walk in to rural households and offer very basic utility items like soaps, dry milk, biscuits and everyday medicine and poor village women take it as gift from Divine. Having developed a rapport with native people, collecting required information does not remain a real botheration. Another ploy is the promise of a good future so that they could switch from menial jobs to other jobs, which is only a fallacy. In a functional society, those who deserve get the opportunities to make their mark.

            Role of international media is understandable because of the huge sums of money poured in by the companies sponsoring the donors. They would make sufficient hue and cry on issues of aid worker not being allowed in Syria but would not talk about those who brought that war to the Syrian people. Most deplorable is the role of local media. They are the real champions of the dirty work. Twenty soldiers died in Bannu bomb blast today (19 January 2014) and it is treated like another news item, however, if couple of polio workers are not allowed access to an area, all media groups unanimously create sufficient fuss to be heard home and abroad. Now you can connect the dots by relating it to the good services of Dr Shakeel Afridi for US as polio campaigner and the role of our media in this dirty matrix. Can someone imagine any media group going out to expose the real face of these NGOs? They are all brethren just like a buffalo is sister to another buffalo. Sinister role of media to effectively exercise perception control of the people needs to be understood and checked.

            Government’s inability/ unwillingness, media’s hypocrisy and ignorance of people has allowed these NGOs to gain a foothold in our society. Although ‘Maulvis’ and extremists discredit the very existence of NGOs yet their own credibility is questionable because they oppose NGOs primarily due to fear of losing their hegemony in the rural settings. Secondly because of their sweet wish of imposing their own brand of Islam upon the people. Balanced religious voices show concern on the ingress of these NGOs in our society but they have been found inarticulate and mostly go unnoticed. Unfortunately, anything preceded by the word ‘religion’ in this country has become a social taboo. In a methodical way, the effectiveness of religious segment in society has been brought to ‘Naught’. On the other hand, most interesting fact about our society is that people are religious to the core. Our society is among the most giving societies of the world in terms of our capacities to earn versus the amount of Sadqahs we give away.

            The purpose of the scribe is not to discourage philanthropy. Rather good social work is inbuilt in our society. System of family, bradri, community, jirga, dera, baithak etc has always been there. Nonprofit social welfare organizations like Edhi and Chhipa etc are already in place but no foreign donor would give them a dime in charity except Pakistani expatriates which is again the strength of our society. Mosques, madrassas and system of Zakat, sadqaat, usher etc is part of our religious mechanism of social welfare. If we have become incompetent to optimally utilize these mechanisms we must not blame anyone else but ourselves.

            As long as the aid of any kind keeps pouring into a country, nothing will change. The mental inertia is the greatest barrier to break the status quo. Aids, grants, loans will only create more beggars and would do greater damage to the society and economy of the country. We need to look around where have we reached in the journey of last 66 years. We have done all we could to break away from our roots and adopt a selected part of western way of thinking and a lifestyle which is not ours. It is time we do some soul-searching. Distancing ourselves from our original way of life has done so much damage why should we not make an effort to reconnect with our roots and make use of those fine inbuilt mechanisms in our society and religion which can relieve us from all the stress that is upon us. We have been indoctrinated so badly that the issues like that of NGOs puts our sense of judgment in a difficult situation. The fancy face of NGOs is very deceptive. Impressive stats, organized infrastructure, flow of cash from abroad, educated and intelligent local representatives, is the ware-withal that can create doubt in any mind but we still have a right to ask the question, do we really need NGOs in Pakistan? Please comment.