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Scrutiny or harassment

Scrutiny, regulation, registration, NOCs are all being put in place to keep the NGOs under a vigilant watch but to what end

Scrutiny or harassment

When the scrutiny of NGOs started a couple of years ago, the process was different for both local and international ones, with the latter being asked to register with the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) of the federal government. The INGOs were also asked to report their particulars periodically and share extensive details of their ongoing projects under the proposed Regulation of Foreign Contributions Act 2013 for being recipients of foreign funding. A new condition of informing the relevant government departments and provinces about the proposed use of donor money beforehand was also introduced.

In certain cases it was made binding on them to get No Objection Certificates (NOCs) in order to work on a particular project. Besides, several geographical locations in the country were made no-go areas for them.

The local NGOs on the other hand were supposed to submit their audit reports, minutes of board meetings, project completion etc. to their local registering authorities and asked to avoid involvement in any unwanted activities. Last year in June, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that no NGO will be allowed to work against the national interest of Pakistan. His objection was that some of them were performing out of their respective domains and therefore should be probed.

But now there is a perception that local NGOs, especially those who are undertaking projects in collaboration with INGOs and international donors, are being subjected to somewhat similar scrutiny and kept under a vigilant watch by the district administration, registration authorities and security agencies. Development sector professionals believe since there are few local funding opportunities for local NGOs within the country, they have to work in collaboration with INGOs and therefore ultimately become recipients of foreign funding.

So, the question is as to how are the local or National NGOs (NNGOs) being monitored and whether the whole exercise has made things better or at least streamlined for them. Naseer Memon, CEO, Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) Pakistan, says that “INGOs are required to sign fresh MoUs with the Ministry of Interior (MoI); they apply for it and the ministry either issues or denies these on the basis of the scrutiny it carries out”.

“It is however not clear under which law this fresh registration is required and to whom are the NNGOs answerable — to their registration authorities or the EAD.”

However, he says, “there prevails an ambiguity regarding NNGOs’ scrutiny. The NNGOs are registered under various laws and shall technically be under the scrutiny of the relevant authorities. But recently the EAD has issued a notification for their registration with the division.

“It is however not clear under which law this fresh registration is required and to whom are the NNGOs answerable — to their registration authorities or the EAD.”

Nargis Khan, Policy and Communications Advisor, Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF) — a consortium of 62 INGOs operating in Pakistan — also confirms that local NGOs, in addition to different acts and laws at a provincial level are also regulated by the Economic Affairs Department (EAD) of Ministry of Finance using the ‘Policy for regulation of organisations receiving foreign contributions’. She tells TNS that the EAD published its implementation notification on August 16, 2016 that also covers the local NGOs, especially those working as partners of INGOs.

“Different registration laws have their stipulations on regulation. I doubt if any NGO can be legally stopped by suddenly issuing an executive order without conducting a transparent inquiry after issuing a notice and seeking response/clarification,” says Memon.

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In spite of being legally registered, says Memon, NGOs require separate NOCs at various levels i.e from MoI, provincial home departments etc.; the deputy commissioners are controlling the NOC process and there is no single window or a proper channel to submit and process any such NOCs. “The requirement has been created recently without any legal provision and is being arbitrarily used by authorities to impede NGOs’ work for the betterment of disadvantaged communities. There are no clear guidelines available to process such NOCs.”

He says even the oft-quoted law on regulation of foreign contributions is not formally in place so far. “A draft law has been making rounds but it has not so far been presented before or approved by parliament or any provincial assembly.”

A senior executive with a leading NNGO tells TNS on conditions of anonymity, that the organisations doing rights-based work are mostly being targeted whereas those doing social sector service delivery are very much at ease. He says there are more than a dozen laws under which the NGOs can be registered though majority of the functional NGOs are registered under Voluntary Societies Welfare Agencies (Registration and Control) Ordinance 1961 (XLVI of 1961), some are registered as Trust. “Now an increasing number of NGOs are being registered under Section 42 as Non-Profit companies with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and since 2015, the government has asked all the local NGOs to get renewal from their respective registration authorities,” he says.

The executive shares that Social Welfare Agencies Ordinance does not require these organisations to get annual renewal but they are being asked to get renewals under administrative orders by the district authorities. “The offices of the local NGOs are being visited by multiple authorities and agencies to get information. Getting information is not bad per se but it is the attitude as if all the NGOs are doing something illegal. The NGOs cannot function if they do not maintain records as they need to have third party audits as legal requirement and accountability to the donor agencies.”

He says all the process may have achieved is creating harassment among the NGOs and their staff. This, he says, has caused a major drop in donor funding for Pakistan. “The big donors such as DFID and USAID have left NGOs and INGOs and have hired big contractors to undertake similar projects in Pakistan who work on profit whereas NGOS/INGOs work on non-profit basis.”

The executive explains the money spent by NGOS/INGOs would mostly be utilised on community development and awareness whereas the contractors take almost 40 per cent money in terms of their profits and 20 per cent as their overheads and staff costs. “In a sense, they only spend 40 per cent on the community work. This is a net loss to communities and a gain for the corporate sector contractor companies.”

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

shahzada irfan
The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

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