The Botswana Council of Non-Government Organisations (BOCONGO) would like to respond to the editorial by the Sunday Standard on 28th October. BOCONGO’s mission is, among other things, to build the capacity of NGOs by improving the governance standards of member organisations. BOCONGO’s values include good governance, transparency, and accountability. BOCONGO has a code of conduct which members have to abide by. It is, therefore, deeply disturbed by the allegations being made against the NGO sector and the leadership of the NGOs in Botswana.
The Commentary alleges that NGOs are now run by people who are not sincere, not hardworking and not trustworthy. It further alleges that NGOs are scenes of some of the ‘worst crime scenes and corruption in the land’. Furthermore, NGOs are accused of unspecified abuse. Such crimes are further said be not isolated incidents, but common place.’ Very serious allegations and even stronger language used. Any reader expects the commentary to put that in context, citing cases that have been to the courts and those who have been convicted of corruption.
The Sunday Standard complains that NGOs are one man shows or family controlled. Certainly NGOs, not bureaucracies that one finds in Government for instance, have to be lean and mean organisations and often the leader of an organisation can be synonymous with it, but this does not in any way suggest that there are no governance structures, controls and accountability. NGOs have constitutions which spell out the governance procedures and processes. This is required by the Registrar of Societies, donors and members of each NGO.
The Commentary further alleges, without substantiating, that NGOs have lost their vision and mission. It then recommends ‘government’s intervention’ because the leaders of NGOs are venal or is it vernal since the editor used both words, but we get the meaning that NGO leaders are alleged to be corrupt. It is disappointing that the Sunday Standard is recommending government intervention and sites the Zimbabwe experience. That is how civil society space is usually eroded; the government saying it is going in to solve some problem regarding NGO management and you end up with political control. That debate is currently raging in Zambia whereby the government has come up with a draconian NGO Bill that NGOs are fighting tooth and nail against. We have seen the same thing with media in Zimbabwe and other places. BOCONGO does not want any government control and interference in the affairs of the civil society organisations. It’s undemocratic.
Then the editor goes on to say that he is not about to ‘name and shame’ any particular NGO but he ironically says ‘the situation has become so commonplace that it can no longer be ignored.’ This is very disappointing coming from a whistle blower. Instead of helping to eradicate corruption in Botswana by exposing it, the editor says he is not ‘about to name and shame’. Is that being a good citizen? BOCONGO would like to challenge the Sunday Standard to substantiate their allegations by naming the individuals and organisations that are involved in unethical and unbecoming conduct or approach relevant authorities with the evidence. That is what is expected from an independent media, be a watch dog of society and not a protector of sleaze.
BOCONGO and NGOs are well aware that the credibility of their governance systems lies at the very heart of the survival of NGOs. Donors, governments and international partners cooperate with NGOs on the understanding that such organisations have robust governance structures and processes. BOCONGO takes these allegations very very seriously. That is why we call upon the Sunday Standard to ‘name the evil doers so as to protect the innocents.’
NGOs do account to their stake holders in terms of their legal requirements and concerned stake holders do insist on this. Membership based NGOs do hold annual general meetings at which audited financial accounts and annual reports are presented. This is standard practice in organisations and if there is deviation from the norm people have to account. This is accountability in practice.
The article does injustice to the NGO community, particularly the leadership of the NGOs who constantly have to make sacrifices, at times going on for months without salaries. The worst part of the article is that it comes so soon after a very successful NGO Week in Francistown that has been widely advertised in the local print media. Was the Sunday Standard in Francistown to see the work being done by NGOs? BOCONGO, while recognising that this was a commentary and not a news report, still feels that it is not balanced and not substantiated and it is defamatory and malicious.
Executive Secretary (BOCONGO)