Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Should we support NGOs?

A friend writes on a list that I subscribe to: "NGOs hold up development in deeply impoverished rural areas offering much, delivering little and spreading fear amongst local people. Ultimately the locals begin to realize that without development they can never achieve the lifestyle that the donors and management of these very NGOs live on a daily basis - in Islington or Kensington or Double Bay. If you want more on this topic, get the movie "Mine Your Own business" - it's a franklook at the NGO business, the damage they do and they say in their very own words".

My response:

Certainly, there are NGOs as well as scientific institutions/ organisations around the world that are neither as honest nor as effective as they should be.

Equally, there are honest and effective scientific institutions/ organisations - just as there are honest and effective NGOs.

Honest/effective NGOs believe in independent assessment by qualified outsiders - and publish audited accounts which state clearly how much of the money reaches the intended beneficiaries and how much gets eaten up in administration et al.

A similar point might apply to scientific institutions/ organisations, except that the whole of the "science industry" is vitiated by politics - I mean of the national or "Party Political" sort, since a lot of funding comes from national governments.

Individuals can choose *not* to give to NGOs - and can choose, if they wish to give, the NGO they prefer. They do not have any such choice in relation to taxation.

We all know that underdevelopment is a choice that political elites make in the interests of their own pockets (as can be seen starkly in Sudan, Zimbabwe and other countries), and we know that NGOs can do little about that. But what honest and effective NGOs can do is to make some marginal difference to a few lives here and there - which is important for those lives. If someone on this list can point to some organisation dedicated to "shifting" the stance of guilty political elites (not only in the three-fourths world), I will happily join that individual and organisation. Meanwhile, I am committed to making what difference I can through honest and trustworthy NGOs.

On this list, the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has often been attacked for being "political". I could pursue this also in relation to some scientific institutions/organisations in India. No doubt others could do so in relation to some scientific institutions/ organisations in other countries - or even most scientific institutions/organisations in relation to certain countries.

Attacking any or all such NGOs/ scientific organisations/ institutions gets us nowhere".

In response, a correspondent responds with an illustration: "Sofia - now a city of 900,000 motor vehicles does not have a garbage dump. Garbage is collected and compressed and baled and then trucked 150 kilometres to a remote disposal site outside the second largest city in he country - Plovdiv. Why? Because of local NGOs with strong political connections. The NGOs have more than strong ties with the Socialists with the main ones in Bulgaria having been founded by the Sons of Communist era Generals one of whom is VP of the country). Why is Plovdiv willing to take the garbage? - US10 million a year I believe".

My response:
The problem in Bulgaria is clearly not NGOs per se but the fact that they are manipulated by the political elite there ... as happens in so many other parts of the world.

Conclusion: We need to scrutinise NGOs just as we need to scrutinise companies - or governments, for that matter. The human tendency to twist for personal benefit whatever can be twisted has to be watched in every sphere of activity. But that does not mean that we can do without governments, companies or NGOs. The difference is that companies rely on investors, workers and customers; and governments rely on the consent of the governed; while NGOs rely on the goodwill of ordinary people. Corrupt NGOs need to be "outed" in order to maintain the credibility of the entire NGO sector. In my view, non-corrupt NGOs do not do enough to "out" the corrupt NGOs. But, at the end of the day, "outing" corrupt NGOs is the responsibility of every human being. Sphere: Related Content

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