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Adding to the complications

Speedy registration of INGOs under a complicated process raises many concerns

Adding to the complications
Interior Ministry says as many as 143 INGOs have applied online for registration.

The fast pace of registration of the International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs) in Pakistan through the Interior Ministry indicates completion of this long delayed process in the coming few weeks.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, in an official communication a few days ago, announced to complete the INGOs’ registration under the new policy by the end of July. In June, there have been marathon meetings of the INGOs wing of the ministry. However, little is shared with the INGOs, media and the public on this issue, adding to the concerns of INGOs that term this procedure one-sided and without any consultation or feedback.

According to the latest figures, updated by the Interior Ministry, as many as 143 INGOs have applied online for registration under the new policy.

INGOs came under severe criticism in Pakistan following reports of the involvement of a CIA official working in the guise of an activist in a vaccination campaign of Save the Children to trace Osama bin Laden. In 2014, after the introduction of the National Action Plan to counter terrorism, pressure on the INGOs and NGOs increased.

Under the 2015 new policy of registration of INGOs, the role of intelligence agencies has been broadened and the process of registration has been made complicated. Earlier, the INGOs were mostly working through Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) and acknowledgments of the country’s Economic Affairs Division (EAD).

After the approval of new policy in the last quarter of 2015, registration of all the INGOs in Pakistan was cancelled with the direction to apply for fresh registration.

Among the 143 registration applications of INGOs, according to the Interior Ministry’s record, 44 INGOs are from the United States, 26 from the United Kingdom, 15 from Germany, seven from Switzerland, six each from the Netherlands and France, five each from Italy and Japan, four each from Canada and Saudi Arabia, two each from Norway, Ireland, Turkey, Australia and Pakistan, and one each from Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Mexico, Thailand, Kenya, China, Kuwait, Qatar, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

A meeting chaired by the interior minister recently, has announced approval of 73 INGOs till now. The ministry also declared that 23 INGOs have been blacklisted and barred from working in Pakistan and asked to wind up their offices in the next three months. However, they are allowed to file a review application before the ministry. Applications of another 47 INGOs are under process.

Interestingly, the interior ministry has not only declined to share the details of the INGOs with media, but also has not communicated this to the concerned INGOs. All names are lying in confidential files.

The new policy to regulate operations of the INGOs warns them against any engagement in money-laundering, terrorist financing, weapons smuggling and anti-state activities.

“We will announce all these details and names of the organisations after completion of the whole registration process,” an official of the ministry tells TNS. On the other side, concerns are growing among INGOs functioning in Pakistan about the procedures and delays.

A recent meeting of Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), which is a consortium of more than 60 INGOs functioning in Pakistan, discussed the outcome of the last two meetings of the ministry officials about INGOs. Most of the INGOs were of the view that the process of the registration was one-sided and no INGO is given any charge-sheet before being barred from working.

“Rejecting INGOs’ applications or barring them from working in Pakistan amid ‘security and loyalty concerns’ without sharing details with us is injustice,” one of the INGO representatives tells TNS, asking not to be named. He says there is only verbal accusation and the ministry should realise that such accusation without seeking reply from INGO(s) will damage their public image. “How can a government question the credibility of an INGO without any proof or charge-sheet?” he asks. Many INGOs, sources say, and donor agencies are concerned about this one sided and secretive procedure and want to take up the issue with the ministry.

Some INGOs think this speedy registration at the end of financial year is because of some budgetary reasons. Otherwise, INGOs are waiting for their fate to be decided for the past two years. The policy announced in October 2015 had given a deadline of 60 days to international aid groups to get registered with the ministry. The ministry was given another 60 days to decide the cases. However, the deadline was extended many times.

The interior ministry officials believe these blacklisted INGOs have been denied permission in view of their past performance or projects, and “due to their involvement in certain activities falling outside their domain and stated purpose of their organisation”. According to a reported statement by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, “the way the INGOs had been used in the past had not only dented the credibility of the organisations, but also created lack of trust between the government and these INGOs”.

The new policy to regulate operations of the INGOs warns them against any engagement in money-laundering, terrorist financing, weapons smuggling, anti-state activities or maintenance of links with banned organisations, which would entail cancellation of their registration.

A breach of security or involvement in any activity inconsistent with national interests or contrary to the government’s policy will lead to cancellation of registration. The INGOs have also been barred from taking part in any kind of political activity or conducting any research or surveys irrelevant to their terms of reference. The INGOs will also not be able to provide monetary or material assistance to another INGO or local NGO prior to an approval by the government.

Moreover, foreign employees of the INGOs will have to seek permission from the ministry for visiting places outside their designated areas of activities, and violations may lead to the cancellation of their visas. During this period, expired visas of many INGO functionaries have not been renewed and many foreign representatives of INGOs have been asked to leave the country with proclamation that foreigners would not be allowed to work with INGOs in Pakistan.

“I think there should a registration policy for both the NGOs and the INGOs. Presently, there is no law governing the INGOs and the government should enact a law for this purpose,” says Anees Jillani, a lawyer and human rights activists. “There are lots of laws governing registration of local NGOs and all of them should be consolidated to have one law. Once this is done, there should be no need for the local NGOs to sign an MOU with EAD.”

“However, as for the INGOs, the current emphasis appears to be on getting cleared by the intelligence agencies. This is unfair as these agencies can only vouch for the security clearances but lack expertise to assess the work of INGOs. These INGOs should be registered with an authority which can assess their work,” he suggests.

“The other aspect relates to the funds these organisations bring to Pakistan and to whom they are distributed. This fact should be transparent and the funding should be shared with the registration authority but the latter should not have any say as to whom the funds go,” Jillani opines, urging the government to ease the processes.

Waqar Gillani

waqar gillani
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at vaqargillani@gmail.com

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