Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NGOs within a Culture of Corruption

NGOs within a Culture of Corruption Richard Holloway Many NGOs are created by rebellious people who are fed up with the level of poverty or powerlessness that they see around them. Many NGOs are born from a reforming zeal which dislikes the status quo, and wants to improve things - not simply by taking over power from the present power holders, but by changing the ways that development is carried out, and by initiating a better way of doing things. The reforming zeal or such an individual or individuals, however, exists within the culture of the country in which he or she lives. When such an individual is surrounded by a culture in which corruption is very persuasive, his or her resolution can be eroded, and he or she can start accepting practices which were previously unacceptable. It is not unreasonable to expect that if NGOs fail and become corrupt, they are likely to fail in line with the kinds of corruption that are common in those countries. To localize the practices of NGOs which bring them down from the moral high ground, and show them not to be practicing what they preach, 1 will use the amusing, but sad collection of NGO acronyms that Alan Fowler has collected in his book "Striking a Balance" that he has called "NGO Pretenders17". Each of these will illustrate the points that 1 have been making in the previous text. 1. BRINGO (Briefcase NGO): an NGO which is no more than a briefcase carrying a well written proposal The currency of NGOs is projects - designs for activities that are intended to improve the lives of other people. This can be direct through specific operational activities implemented amongst the target group, or much more indirect such as through advocacy activities that are designed to change public policies. Spurious proposals will not show overtly that the project is designed to improve the life of the sponsor, but what we are dealing with here is people who have either lost, or never had a commitment to the essential work of NGOs - to improve the lives of people, but have cynically used the availability of money for NGOs as a means by which spurious proposals can be made and by which money can be unlocked. In defence of proposals that seem to benefit individuals more than a target group, some would say that a professional and competent develop worker who is receiving a salary and benefits pertinent to his/her experience and competence, is likely to do a better job than a person long on commitment, but perhaps short on professionalism. This may objectively be true, but contrasts with the basic principle of NGOs that they are value driven, not driven by the desire for personal income. It is in such areas that NGOs start to overlap with the motivations of the business world. The contrast is not whether the person should or should not be paid an appropriate wage, but whether the basis for the person's involvement is one of principle or one of selfishness. A way to ascertain the real motivation of the person involved is to find out how the proposal, which includes the persons salary, has been written. A common occurrence with self-motivated proposals is that they are written from start to finish by the person concerned, and have not involved the constituency which they are meant to serve. An NGO by definition should be seeking the involvement and the participation of its constituency, and it should be relatively easy to spot a proposal, program or project which does not have any mechanism to gain their participation. 2. ComeNVO (Come and Go NGO) An NGO that appears spasmodically:only used by the owners when the NGO pasture looks greener Here again, the purpose of the NGO is not public benefit, but private benefits and self-serving. The "owners" of the NGO may well have another form of employment, but when times are hard, or when there is a donor driven push for some activity for which this individual can qualify, he or she will resurrect the NGO. Again the lack of a constituency can clearly identify such pretenders. 3. CONGO (Commercial NGO): NGOs set up by businesses in order to participate in bids, help win contracts, and reduce taxation These are organisations which claim to be NGOs, but which are actually controlled by businesses - usually in order to avail themselves of tax concessions that are available to NGOs, but not to businesses, or not to businesses on such advantageous terms. This frequently focuses on import permits and import tax, but can also reflect advantages NGOs have in respect of VAT. The motivation is a cynical appreciation of the legal and fiscal advantages of the NGO status, and a desire to optimise profits by wearing NGO clothes. We should clarify the difference between this, however, and an NGO funded by a commercial organisation, but with its own governance. Sometimes an NGO can be set up to benefit the people in a certain area in which a business works. The problem is if the NGO is put forward spuriously as an independent body when, in fact, the decisions are completely in the hands of the business. A third kind of CONGO is a front organisation set up by a commercial business or federation of businesses to lobby for pro-business policies. 4. CRINGO (Criminal NGO): Organisation established for illegal purposes - especially import-export (i.e. smuggling): common in transition economies Because of the confused and complicated nature of NGO laws in countries in eastern Europe, particularly, criminal smuggling gangs have taken on the public image of an NGO in order to bring goods into a country tax free. As mentioned before this very quickly brings into disrepute anyone who calls themselves an NGO. In some Eastern European countries it is difficult to find a "clean" word to describe the kind of organisation which elsewhere can be called an NGO for this reason. 5. DONGO (Donor NGO): created and owned by donors to do their job while shifting overhead costs outside These are NGOs which are organised by donors - again they give the impression that they are local and national NGOs, but the source of decisions, and the controlling authority is a foreign donor organisation. The reason why a donor would try and put forward their own operation as a local NGO is interesting and reflects the donor pressure referred to earlier. The usual reason for this particular deception is that the donor in country is under pressure to spend their aid allocation via NGOs, but cannot find any or enough indigenous NGOs to fund. In desperation the donor "creates" NGOs that it can fund, but keeps control of them itself. A different kind of reason for the creation of a DONGO might be for a donor to re-allocate some portion of his offices' funds from operational to overheads by creating a shadow organisation. 6. FANGO (Fake NGO): NGO used as a front for something else: not uncommon in Eastern Europe. Because NGOs are the target for increasing amounts of donor funding, or have established concessions for themselves in the legal and tax environment, there are advantages for different groups to spuriously put themselves forward as independent NGOs in order to take advantage of either the funding or the concessions. There is also the possibility of an NGO which acts as a front for some group or another to crowd out the genuine independent NGO which may be troublesome to those in power. 7. GONGO (Government owned NGO): Type of GRINGO used to capture or redirect non-profit funds allocated by the official aid system These are Government controlled NGOs which claim to be independent organisations founded by the people, but which are in fact, controlled by the Government. The reason why Government will try to do this is in order to avail itself of some funding which is not otherwise available to a government department 8. GRINGO (Government run and initiated NGO): variation of a QUANGO, but with the function of countering the actions of real NGOs; common in Africa Here the Government realises that an NGO is getting a large measure of public and popular support for a particular issue which may be troublesome to the government concerned. One tactic is then to set up a counter-veiling NGO which will try and attract the NGO's followers (and denigrate that particular NGO), but which is controlled by the Government. 9. MANGO (Mafia NGO): a criminal NGO providing services of the money laundering and enforcement and protection variety: prevalent in Eastern Europe This comes from the same stable as those who tried to argue that the Mafia in the US was a cultural organisation for Italian identity. As mentioned previously, if the public starts to think of NGOs as MANGOs, it makes the work of genuine NGOs very difficult indeed. 10. MONGO (My own NGO) and NGI (Non-Government Individual): These are NGOs which are the personal property of an individual, often dominated by his or tier ego, and a person who operates as if he or she is an NGO, but without an organisational affiliation. Again, the touchstone of a constituency is the feature that can expose such pretenders 11. PANGO (Party NGO): an aspiring, defeated, or banned political party or politician dressed as an NGO: species of Central Asia and Indo-China This is for people who no longer have a legitimate platform for their political ideas, and so they hide behind the name of an NGO to keep their name current. 12. PHANGO (Phantom NGO): NGO only existing in the mind of the speaker. used to bolster an argument 13. PONGO (Politician's NGO): Established to capture or direct NGO funding to the home constituency as a defence against incursion by opponents 14. QUANGO (Quasi NGO): Para-statal body set up by Government as an NGO, often to enable better conditions of service for those running it, or to create political distance You could probably add to this list. The fact that there are so many ways in which people pretend to be NGOs says something about the strength of the NGO sector. It is likely that people who are motivated by different ideas that public benefits to the poor and disadvantaged will find a pretence that fits in with practices and pressures common in their home country 15. SENGO (Bent NGO): Such an NGO behaves in many ways like a corrupt government body - it does the work that it is required to do, but so organises the rates of pay for then job that the benefits that come to the staff or Board are way beyond what good practice would dictate, by such means as over-invoicing, sweetheart deals with contractors, or other abuses of the procurement systems. In some cases the rates of pay are simply way higher than the market. In such cases, of course, the people who suffer are the target groups who have fewer resources available to them than would otherwise be the case. 16. MENGO (Mercenary NGO): In such a case an NGO has no constituency, has no particular set of values, has no particular vision or mission, but makes itself available as a contractor which will take on any job in the development arena in which funding is available. Here the problem is not that the "NGO" is stealing money from the people that it is intending to help: the "NGO" may well efficiently implement the work that it was contracted to do. The problem is that the spurious organisation has no links to the people, not constituency, and no involvement of the people in working on a joint approach to solving their problems. If an NGO proclaims itself as an organisation which designs proposals in partnership with the target group, then it cannot jump from client to client in the way that a contractor does. By Samuel Mlay FTC (Arch), B.A (Hons), PGDHRM, MBA-IB, MSc (Policy) smlay@yahoo.co.uk I read through and liked it. How true. Thanks Samuel. JT

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