Govt is Unable to Manage NGO Funds –– Analysts

PROPOSALS to have all funding and assistance to Zimbabwe from humanitarian organisations channelled through government would present administrative and operational problems, analysts have said.

It has been resolved by negotiators of the three political parties which are signatories to the global political agreement (GPA) that funding for aid be channelled through government which should have the right of determining where resources are to be allocated.

This resolution which has already been adopted by the negotiators is carried in the report on progress on implementing the GPA which was sent to the Southern Africa Development Community last year. It was a result of Zanu PF’s position that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were aligned to MDC-T which was affecting the political playing field.

Zanu PF has alleged that there is “politicisation of humanitarian food assistance and the selective funding of elements or ministries by donors”.

It has gone on to allege that there was no transparency in “funds channelled to the NGOs in terms of both size and quantities of funds and recipients thereof.”

It is also clear that the Multi-Donor Trust Fund, which has been a source of contestation between Zanu PF and MDC-T was also targeted under the proposals.

Communications manager at the National Association for Non-Governmental Organisatons Farai Ngirande said it was too early to have the government controlling the funds as there was a serious need for institutional change.

“It is also important to note that because of the brain drain especially in the last five years, government may not have the capacity to effectively handle the funds as most of the qualified personnel left the public service,” said Ngirande. “On the other hand, the NGO sector has been able to retain personnel who are best placed to undertake the humanitarian aid effort.”

Ngirande added that issues which have been raised against government, especially corruption, may work against the move to centralise control of funding for NGOs.

However, Ngirande added, government and civic society are not mutually exclusive.

“It is not an either-or question as both the government and the NGOs are important,” Ngirande said. “What is required is a comprehensive strategy that involves all willing players.”

Simon Badza, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said the centralisation of control of funding may be done as a measure to monitor the operations of the NGOs.

“From time to time, all sovereign states may want to monitor the operations of NGOs to see if they are operating within the parameters of the law,” said Badza. “This may be done to make sure that if they are humanitarian organisations, then they would be doing humanitarian work.”

Badza added that in most Third World countries, NGOs may be viewed as a security threat operating as agencies of their parent countries.

Another analyst who said he was a consultant for several NGOs in the country said the decision to control finances was literally ‘going where others were coming from.’

“Most NGOs have an outstanding administrative capacity, something which is almost absent in most government departments,” said the consultant. “When the NGOs identify a gap, they always fill it because they have the finance and this is a sign that they would be in a better position to execute different tasks.”

The consultant suggested that the government should empower the NGOs instead of disempowering them.

“It is surprising that it is only the funding that the government would want to control. There are a number of cycles and procedures which are followed and release of funds is only a stage, thus it may not make sense to control one stage,” added the consultant. “What would happen, for example if a proposal for infant feeding in Muzarabani is approved but the funds are diverted to another district?”

MDC-T spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the resolutions are only a work in progress and they would have to be approved by the respective political parties.

“This is not being implemented and we need to fully appreciate the impact of such a move,” Chamisa said. “Who knows, perhaps this may not fly when it comes to implementation.”

The resolutions which were made by the negotiators of the three political parties have once again exposed the fraught nature of the state-civil society relationship in Zimbabwe.

It has become traditional that the state is suspicious of the activities of civil society while on the other hand NGOs argue that they play a complementary role to government activities. This once again puts the role of NGOs under the spotlight.

Government has since the turn of the century been trying to increase control on the operations of the civil society through legislative means.  Apart from these methods, there are some strict processes and procedures which one has to follow if they want to operate as an NGO in the country.

Parallels can be drawn between the proposals recently agreed to by negotiators from the three political parties and the Political Parties (Finance) Act passed eight years ago.

The Political Parties (Finance) Act provides for the financing of political parties by the State and at the same time prohibits foreign donations to political parties and candidates.

When it was passed in 2002, this act was mainly targeted at the opposition MDC which two years earlier had mounted a serious campaign against Zanu PF.

While regulating funding of political parties through the act has been done with few glitches, NGOs may be a lot more difficult.

Analysts pointed out that the definition of an NGO was not watertight, thus there would be a number of problems when it came to the implementation. It would also present problems if funding for an international NGO were to be controlled by government which would have a prerogative to allocate resources as there are programmes which are already running and may be disturbed.

Questions have also been raised as to how government would be able to allocate resources which were raised by third parties which are on the ground and know the needs of the people.

Most of the NGOs have been operating for close to a decade and they now have a better understanding of the communities they operate in and they may be raising funds based on the needs assessment.

Regulation of NGOs through centralised control of finances by the state, analysts added, may present problems especially at a time when many players in the sector are opting for self-regulation.

Other countries, South Africa for example, have also been debating the issue of regulation with the NGOs arguing that this would best be done by an independent body.

Such a body would execute tasks specific to the regulation of NGOs as these roles cannot be optimally performed within a specific government department which may have other pressing needs.

It has been argued that governments are not best placed to perform such roles because their budgets are shaped by forces beyond an entity’s actual need, such as political will, economic conditions, international pressure, and other, seemingly more pressing demands on limited government resources.

If the control of NGO funds were to be put under the ambit of government, then there would be a further straining of resources and at the same time it may create unnecessary delays in the disbursement of funds for pressing needs.

 

Leonard Makombe

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