Civil society activists have expressed fear that the recent presentation of the Non-Government Organisations (NGO) policy to parliament by Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu was part of a plan by government to swallow NGOs. Former Botswana Coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations (BOCONGO ) chairman and civil society activist, Thapelo Ndlovu said the policy is similar to the controversial Media Act in that government would be literally taking control of the NGO sector, albeit subtly. Presenting the policy document, Batshu noted that NGOs are experiencing financial sustainability challenges.
He said there was need for the establishment of a Council as a vanguard for best practice s in corporate governance of the NGO community through the establishment and enforcement of an NGO code of conduct. Ndlovu, however, argued that “by hosting the secretariat, appointing all members of the Council the NGOs have been sold a dummy.” He said human rights and like minded organizations will suffer the most as government will only support organizations that see no evil and hear no evil. “The truth is that, contrary to expectations Government will make sure the council only support friendly initiatives. You just have to look at government’s reaction to criticism to understand this.” Ndlovu said.
He confirmed that NGOs were consulted on the policy, but overlooked the underlying implications. “NGO were part of the arrangement. We naively pushed for the implementation of the policy unaware that with the current government the whole thing would backfire. The NGOs were mainly thinking the Council and/or policy would mitigate their financial woes hence the support,” he said. Ndlovu said it was only during the setup of the Council that the government’s intentions became clear.
“Going forward the NGOs must demand suspension of the council or withdraw their endorsement of the Council and let government continue with her baby,” he said. Outgoing Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) Uyapo Ndadi said, “It is ludicrous to have government have a deep and strong hand in the affairs of NGOs. Why is government so obsessed with power and interference even where there is no room for them! It is laughable really,” said Ndadi. He is of the view that the government doesn’t take NGOs seriously adding that it is for the NGOs to put government in her right place. “We don’t interfere with government business, at best, we seek to influence, although many a times they don’t listen. How will we hold government to account when under their roof? NGOs are weak in Botswana because of heavy or absolute reliance on government for funding,” said Ndadi.
According to Ndadi the move will entrench the NGOs’ weakness and reliance on government and fuel what he called bolope (bootlicking). Information reaching this publication is that newly elected board members of BOCONGO are also unhappy with the policy. “On the day that the policy was presented by Parliament, they were not invited to attend,” said an insider adding that the board members have reservations about the policy in its current state. Batshu said at present most NGOs in Botswana are faced with an uncertain future because of the declining external donor support. “This is making it difficult for NGOs to effectively carry out their mandate,” said Batshu. He added that very few development partners are supporting strategic initiatives. This, Batshu said, has contributed to current low participation of NGOs in national development. “The purpose of the National Non ÔÇôGovernmental Organizations Policy is to provide a framework to guide NGO-Government relations, including the institutional and administrative structures and process for overseeing and facilitating these relations,” said Batshu. He said Government will also rationalize financial resource allocation to NGOs as opposed to the current situation where some NGOs receive funding from different Government entities and by so doing create unfair distribution of resources.