An international non-governmental organisation (INGO) working on malnutrition, health, and education has laid off about 80 per cent of its staff in the past few months due to delayed registration under Pakistan’s new policy for the INGOs. The organisation had a staff of about 2500 personnel by the end of 2014, which has gradually come down to 450.
The government’s slow process of re-registering the INGOs is adding to the worries of these organisations, a few stakeholders tell TNS. Under the new policy, defined in October 2015, all INGOs require fresh registration after a tough scrutiny and documentation by the interior ministry.
Stakeholders believe that INGO projects have started losing confidence of the global donors. Development aid is being diverted to other countries, significantly reducing their overall portfolio in Pakistan due to extraordinary delays and bureaucratic hurdles in completing the new registration process. Another INGO that had a staff of about 3,000 people a few months ago has a workforce of only 50 people today.
Statistics by the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), with 62 INGOs as its member, say there is a reduction of 56 per cent staff in the member organisations since 2014.
The INGOs came under the spotlight 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 terror, pressure on INGOs and NGOs increased.
Under the new policy, the role of intelligence agencies has increased and the process of registration is made complicated to get the final nod of the government to formally start projects in Pakistan. Earlier, the INGOs were mostly working through Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) and acknowledgments of the country’s Economic Affairs Division (EAD).
The officially disclosed number of INGOs registered under the new policy is 50 while the ministry has received at least 152 applications from INGOs. Of these re-registered INGOs, most of them provide humanitarian relief. Organisations working on human rights, security, democracy, political rights, media, etc, are still waiting for completion of registration.
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“A few months after the introduction of the new policy, all INGOs functioning in Pakistan were formally stopped from working. Later, after pursuance, a verbal permission was granted to resume work until the decision on registration is finalised,” says country director of an INGO requesting anonymity.
“There was total disruption for a year. And still we have no final word regarding our pending application for new registration,” he says, adding, “As many as 22 intelligence agencies and related organisations have seen our papers and project details but there is no response from the ministry yet, except saying things are in the process.”
“The funds are being diverted or frozen and the people of Pakistan — the ultimate beneficiaries of these development projects — are deprived of this resource,” he maintains.
He also points out lack of professionalism on the part of government’s administrative machinery to understand the sensitivity and importance of these organisations. “A small-scale inaccessible officer is dealing with this whole issue of registration with no professional knowledge of this sector,” he claims, adding, “All visas of foreign staff have not been extended and they will not be renewed under the new policy.”
The country director says even after the registration is complete there is requirement of getting NOC for every single activity in every district and this consumes a lot of time. Sometimes, the time period of an activity passes only in this exercise.
“We respect the law of the land and we want compliance of new policies and rules. But these delays become a loss for the people of Pakistan,” says the country head of another INGO who does not want to be identified. He also thinks bureaucratic incompetence is the main reason behind the delays in completing the registration process.
“We understand the concerns and policies of the state. But they need to speed up the process and decide the fate of the applications at the earliest.” He recalls that his organisation has submitted more than 3,000 pages of documentation to follow the requirements of registration.
The new policy for INGOs states “security clearance shall be obtained by Pakistan Missions abroad before issuing initial visa to the foreign nationals intending to work for INGOs. Hiring of foreign nationals by the INGOs in their management and/or staff shall be subject to prior clearance of Ministry of Interior. Maximum duration of visas for non-Pakistani nationals working for the INGOs will be one year. And the INGO will have to employ foreign nationals against not more than 10 per cent of the total staff positions, and give preference to Pakistan nationals for key positions.”
One of the new rules also says “there shall be no activity until informing respective provincial governments and concerned local governments/district authorities regarding its programs/projects in their area and obtaining their approval/permission/NOC for carrying out permissible activities.”
Nargis Khan, Policy and Communication Adviser at the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, says she welcomes Pakistan’s efforts to put in place a framework of regulation that ensures transparency and accountability of their partnerships with INGOs. “PHF recognises that implementation of regulation which involves many departments across the government can be complicated and, therefore, PHF is keen to support the government through regular INGO coordination meetings to expedite decisions on remaining INGO registration applications.”
She says, “Throughout the implementation phase there has been a positive relationship with the government, the Ministry of Interior, that is leading the implementation, has issued facilitation letters to ensure that INGOs are able to continue the work that annually reaches 29 million people with humanitarian and development assistance.”
“However, INGOs are concerned that ongoing delays may contribute to a decrease in the overall funding package for humanitarian and development assistance to Pakistan. Till now, only 20 PHF members have received a positive decision from the ministry of interior, while the rest remain under process.”