NGOs are very diverse and by no means are all equally laudable. Some NGOs act irresponsibly and undermine the credibility of the larger NGO movement. This is particularly problematic when conservative governments attempt to use these problematic NGOs as justification for severing important future NGO partnerships/initiatives. This section examines the problem of unconditionally viewing NGOs as the “conscience of society,” and the need to hold NGOs as accountable as the governments and institutions they critique.
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A study by University of Manchester has questioned the legitimacy of large development NGOs, saying that they are heavily influenced by government and corporate donors. This has sparked a debate about “development” programs that are too skewed towards aid rather than the structural causes of poverty. Grassroots organizations have criticized big international aid agencies for being bureaucratic and lacking the political commitment to force change. In the recent UK hunger summit organized by the government, big agencies praised the target commitments made in official policies. Those demanding more radical approaches charge that the government’s approach to simply earmark aid programs will not generate the systemic changes that are necessary. (Guardian)
Foundations that claim to be “environmental” are supporting controversial programs such as the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative in California. The initiative created “marine protected areas” while allowing the state to export California Delta water, which killed millions of Sacramento splittails. The president of the Western States Petroleum Association chairs the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force—so the conflict of interest is apparent. While grassroots organizations are struggling to cover office expenses, the CEOs and top staff of large foundations and conservative environmental NGOs are receiving hefty salaries, up to $1,196,037 a year. “It is no surprise that the perspectives, interests and “environmental” programs of these NGO CEOs are aligned with the Wall Street 1 percent.” (Counter Punch)
Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), is fighting to channel US foreign aid through local institutions rather than American for-profit contractors, in order to increase accountability and aid effectiveness. The Coalition of International Development Companies, an advocacy coalition of 50 government contractors, have objected to the procurement reform stressing the threat of waste and corruption by foreign governments and other institutions. Shah’s aggressive push for paradigm shift is stirring the development world to rethink accountability. (Foreign Affairs)
The ruling United Russia party has submitted a bill which aims to brand foreign funded nongovernmental organizations in Russia as “foreign agents.” The authors of the bill intend to stop the NGOs from “conspiring” and force them to admit that they are the agents of foreign governments. Rights activists accuse the Kremlin of seeking to discredit civil rights groups that oppose to the regime. (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
In December, Egyptian police raided the offices of several foreign “NGOs” leading to much Western press criticism. But the Western media has not investigated the history of the organizations and the nature of the charges. In fact, many of the groups are government sponsored organizations, receiving majority of their funding from the US National Endowment for Democracy which was formed to legally channel US government funds to opposition groups. By using the term NGO, the groups hide behind the illusion of innocent philanthropists, but if China or Cuba were funding opposition groups with a stated goal of regime change in the US, those involved would be facing much harsher consequences. (Irish Foreign Affairs)