Monday, March 8, 2021

The ‘structural conflict’ of the NGO council is a farce!

Those who question the credibility of NGO Council establishment have the right to self ÔÇô expression but that should not be done without having recognized the ideas and needs of the NGO general membership. That would create an atmosphere of coercive and exploitative authority from the NGO bureaucracy.┬á In any development potential conflict is a permanent feature, to be championed and contested and democracy emphasizes the need for challenge, lateral communication, for creative tension, for heterogeneity and the consent of the led. I do not intend to criticize the leadership of NGOs but I am writing what ordinary members of Botswana NGOs think, perceive and experience in the NGO arena. I therefore wish to contribute a different range of facts concerning the NGO Council in opposition to the deviant voices.

It is necessary to be sensible about interpreting the NGO Council. The material status of Botswana NGOs in terms of their capacity and capability in executing their mandate might help explain the naissance of the NGO Council. Despite their different mandates NGOs in Botswana have experienced challenges in finding financial resources for projects. 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. Very few, development partners are supporting strategic initiatives. Most NGOs are as desperate as when they were established. This is mainly because Umbrella NGOs are financially and materially disadvantaged, and therefore have difficulty in affording the cost of their affiliates. This has contributed to the current low participation of NGOs in national development. General membership of NGOs strongly feel that their Umbrella NGOs are not helping them concretely and they have begun to lose interest as they feel mere social awareness organized in luxury hotels with buffet lunches/ dinners is of no use to them. 

In an effort to address sustainability of NGOs, a new era of collaboration and partnership building between the Government and the NGOs was established by way of appointment of the NGO Council; a structure derived from the NGO Policy. The purpose of the National Non ÔÇô Governmental Organisations Policy is to provide a framework to guide relations, including the institutional and administrative structure and processes for overseeing these relations. The NGO Policy postulates Government`s commitment to work with NGOs as the relationship has been very loose and not so formal. It states that the absence of an NGO Policy for a long time did constrain Non-Governmental Organisations from more effectively engaging with Government in development planning processes.

Some of the functions of the NGO Council include; promoting collaboration and co-operation among Government Ministries with NGOs; encourage and involve the private sector to provide financial and technical support through their corporate social investment; instill accountability and financial prudence by and within NGOs and encourage a systematic application and replication of best practices in NGO institutional development, governance and programme development and management.   

Prior to establishment of the NGO Council, a deliberate effort was made to consult NGOs on the review of the NGO Policy. Regional consultative forums were held around the country to raise awareness and seek for inputs from Botswana NGOs in the NGO Policy. The issue pertaining to setting the NGO Council was also discussed during such forums and a consensus was reached on the structure of the NGO Council. The Council has 14 members, 5 of whom are from Government, 7 from the NGO community (4 of whom are from BOCONGO and 3 from BOCOBONET), 1 from BOCCIM and a member from the general public who co-chairs the Council with a representative of the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs.

The NGO Council form the basic instrument for the Government and Non ÔÇô Governmental Organisations to, in a coordinated fashion, live out their shared vision and attain their distinct, but mutually complimentary and supplementary roles. It is a partnership that implies an inter-relatedness and inter-dependence between Government and Non-Government Organisations.

The NGO Policy acknowledges this inter-relatedness and inter-dependence. It provides for communication structures and processes where values, knowledge and skills will be shared, where needs, frustrations and aspirations are communicated and responded to. The NGO Council provides the platform for training and development and such will contribute to the building of capacity of NGOs.       

It is therefore very ironic that where there is a much more urgent need for the strengthening of capacity of NGOs through joining hands, such partnership arrangements are regarded as ‘mere moralism’ by some disgruntled NGO elites. The contention of the NGO Council is more an issue of control by some managerial elites in the NGO circle. The vested interest of the NGOs elites rather than the needs of the people at large have effectively become the most important consideration, despite their professed democratic and social justice ideals. Some of these bureaucrats wanted to turn the NGO Council into a luxury opportunity to their own favours. It is on record that some of those dismissing the NGO Council had submitted their names for appointment by the Cabinet as NGO Council members. This was done without the sanction and blessing of the NGOs` general membership. And because the NGO bureaucrats were not successful in their application, they are now trying to manipulate the different NGOs in the name of democracy and human rights by pretending to speak for the genuine interest of NGOs. Their commitment and sincerity to the NGO work is very susceptible.

It is trickery and foolhardy to display a spirit of deviance simply because you have not been appointed in the NGO Council. To dismiss the NGO Council is to work against possibilities of strengthening the NGOs. It is an ideological smokescreen by the NGO managerial elites to confuse the majority, whilst they themselves continue to derive benefits from government grants and international donor funding. 

There is a dire need for introspection of civil society. Their exaggerated self image, lofty claims such as promoting good governance and fighting corruption is very much wanting in their organizations.  The main threat of NGOs is losing support of their members and not finding new members. This therefore necessitates for NGOs to focus more towards capacity building and raising awareness among the masses, than to create imagined fear about the State controlling the NGOs. NGOs should as well have an effective system of accountability in place and provide transparency in the NGO management.   

In my strong opinion, the relevant issue is not the establishment of an NGO Council, but the question of who stand to benefit from such a setting. The NGOs need more satisfaction than theories of NGO elites. Cooperating with Government for development projects does not necessarily mean losing the independence, integrity and credibility of NGOs. Such a conclusion is very simplistic, imprecise and misleading. It indicates a spirit of sentimental romanticism. Certainly NGOs should guard against being controlled by Government and they should not unquestioningly accept government initiatives. Moreover, the NGO Council must never be allowed to act as tool of regulating NGOs` behavior. However, it is an indisputable fact that Botswana NGOs should cooperate with other organsiations, including Government and the private sector so as to develop core competencies and expertise. This can go a long way in enabling NGOs to accumulate the knowledge and experience to deal with the complex structure of institutionalized power in this country.
 
Gaontebale Mokgosi is an NGO Activist

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper