WHILE the actual events that led the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) to terminate its contract with civil society organisations (CSOs) are not yet known, it is disappointing and an outright disgrace that the groups, which have been championing human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe, have been abusing donor funds.
Candid Comment,Faith Zaba
USAid said this week it had suspended funding to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Counselling Services Unit (CSU) and the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and reported the matter to the USAid office of the inspector-general, an arm responsible for investigating fraud and the abuse of funds in its programmes.
US Embassy acting public relations officer John Taylor was quoted in a local daily as saying: “We can confirm allegations of misuse of US funding by local Zimbabwean partners… Attempts to divert US funds from their intended use are unacceptable under any circumstances”.
It is shameful for civil society organisations, supposed to play a critical role in advancing transparency and good governance in developing countries like Zimbabwe, to be accused of doing the exact opposite of what they purport to represent.
Civil society plays a key role in fostering democracy, more so in countries like Zimbabwe with a tainted history of human rights abuses. They are supposed to play a watchdog role by exposing governance deficiencies. When they face allegations of corruption and theft, they derail the democratisation process and the campaign for good governance.
It is unfortunate that the three CSOs are being accused of abuse of donor funds at a time when the country will be holding crucial elections slated for July 30. They are key players in the impending polls, as they have been raising critical human rights and important electoral issues — an endeavour to ensure the country holds credible elections.
But when they get embroiled in a scandal involving misappropriation of funds, these CSOs lose the high moral ground to hold government accountable.
It is even more tragic, considering that ERC and ZimRights have been leading campaigns for holding free and fair elections, while CSU offered shelter and counselling services to victims of political violence, meaning all their good work could go down the drain.
ZimRights, ERC and CSU have all denied the allegations of abuse or misappropriation of the funds, stating that values of transparency and accountability essentially guide them. The trio now awaits a conclusive report, whose findings it said should be based on evidence, to take appropriate action.
However, what is worrying is that this is not the first time that such allegations have arisen. The lifestyles of some of the people who work in NGOs, characterised by posh mansions and cars, raise eyebrows, earning them the description “champagne revolutionaries”.
Condemning government while sailing in the same boat reeks of hypocrisy. It would be unacceptable and sad, if the allegations are true that funds were abused, misappropriated or diverted.