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My Two Cents On NGO Fund

May 26, 2017

Bangladesh’s leading think tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) called for a Tk 1 billion fund for local NGOs ahead of next fiscal budget. In a press conference CPD exhorted creation of a trust fund that will help the government to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This demand was made amid severe fund shortage as foreign sources are drying out and as govt creates all sorts of obstacle in the normal functioning of NGOs.

Government seems to have some issues with NGOs. Recently it introduced policies that indicate it is less interested to allow them operating freely in this country. A quarter within the government tried to cast aspersions on NGO activities. Some people like to term them as extended arm of extra-constitutional force.
Clearly, mistrust and fear drive a wedge between the govt and the NGOs.

In October 13 2016 it introduced Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill 2016. The bill drew a lot of flak from Civil Society Organizations, international rights bodies and press. The bill demands that govt review a project at any moment and cancel the project, NGOs need  prior approval from govt when their staffs travel abroad , NGOs register with govt body for receiving foreign fund and submit plans of their activities to govt, govt reserve the right to impose punitive actions and cancel registration in case NGO’s failure to comply govt-set standards. Human Rights Watch called the bill bears elements of an authoritarian govt.

Since the introduction of this bill, NGOs have been on the receiving end of low tempo of activities.

The best way to bridge the differences between government and NGOs is to engage them in govt funded development projects.

I worked with various NGOs. I am aware how NGOs are making differences at grass-root level. So, I second CPD’s position. However, I would like to differ slightly from CPD on the usage of this fund.

It was Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development that was the lighthouse to  show way for rural development and scaling up the riff-raff of the society. Akhtar Hameed Khan’s “Comilla Model” not only kick started rural development projects in Bangladesh,  it also received international recognition.

Then came the micro-credit revolution that demonstrated quite successfully that the have-nots pay back their loan.

The Jobra village model is now being replicated in almost all the continents to fight poverty and to prove that capitalism can play a role in empowering the poor in backward societies.

It is indeed a puzzling thing to many how the micro borrowers never default on repaying their loans while most of the big borrowers are loan defaulters.

I worked for sometimes in the development sector. Our industry and service sector are not developed enough to mop up the large section of the educated labor force.

The sector offers seasonal employment for many and remains a good source of decent jobs.

What is important is that it is a sector where the educated labor force serves the ordinary people by employing what they learned at the universities and colleges.

For aspirant bureaucrats, college teachers, university teachers, the sector provides an opportunity to learn about challenges at the societies as they spend a transition period before moving on to their respective fields at the later stage of career.

Development practitioners and researchers working on policies spend a significant time in this sector to share their insights, findings and recommendations on key policy issues with policy makers.

This kind of valuable input helps policy makers to formulate policies that will in the end benefit the desired group.

The fund can be best utilized to build and maintain infrastructures in rural areas. Right now LGED is solely tasked with undertaking such projects. LGED projects often reek of corruption. People spare no occasion to vent their anger on the poor quality of infrastructures.

In Sunamganj this year we witnessed how flash flood washed away a poorly-built embankment  causing sufferings to thousands of people in Haor areas. Later it was found that a politically blessed contractor had got the job to build the embankment.

Instead of LGED contractors, govt could outsource these tasks to NGOs. Public Private Partnership and calling for open tenders are the two ways the govt can proceed.

Transparency in awarding the contract and participation of NGOs and other construction companies will reduce the bout of corruption and increase the quality of infrastructure projects.

Teaming up with NGOs also has positive externality. Accounting firms will likely to bag more opportunities as government will want to oversee the progress and successful completion of projects done by numerous NGOs.

The proposed fund can also be used to hire third parties or firms to audit and monitor a given project.

Our annual development expenditure does little help to address people’s problems. It is meant to fill party men’s coffer.

If government is really honest about people getting benefits from its development expenditure then it should allow NGOs to implement annual development expenditures.

Education, health, infrastructure development, agro-business, market development, entrepreneur development are the areas where government can easily work with NGOs.

The biggest advantage of bringing the NGOs onboard in implementing development  projects is that government can easily fend off political influence, which is in most of the cases the reason for development benefits not reaching to target groups, while implementing development projects.

Specialized NGOs work for a target group should be on the first row of contenders getting public fund. Few years ago I watched a TV report that reported that a School for sex workers’ children in Netrokona would be shut down because of lack of funding.

Banks often do not lend to marginalized communities to start small businesses. Govt can easily provide fund to organizations that work with underprivileged and social outcast communities.

It is good to see the idea of NGO Fund is garnering support within the government. Finance Minister at a program said that he would consider attribute fund to research on physically and mentally-challenged people in the upcoming budget.

Our home grown NGOs now operate on farther afield. By no stretch of the imagination could they be described as “working for other countries’ interests”. NGOs recruit some of the finest minds and have a vast network. Government can use these tremendous resources to attain its development goals.

Let the next budget be a new chapter for opening cooperation between NGOs and govt. And with the efficient use of NGO fund, the left-outs in the society will have a chance to have greater market access, to overcome credit constraint, to get access to education, to get quality infrastructure and to avail affordable medical care.

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