Co-opting NGOs

Recent government moves in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe to monitor NGOs and curtail their rights are being given a once-over

By Leonissah Munjoma, Nalaka Gunawardene
Published: Monday 31 July 1995

Nalaka Gunawardene Colombo & Leonissah Munjoma Harare IN a recent decision, the Sri Lanka government has decided to take over any ngo it finds guilty of malpractices. The cabinet of ministers has just approved the amending of existing laws to enable the take-over for an interim period "where a prima facie case has been established of misappropriation of funds and other malpractices."

The first head to roll seems to be the Sri Lankan Red Cross Society (slrcs), accused of large scale corruption and abuse of funds running into millions.

The Lankan minister for health, social services and highways, A H M Fowzie said, "I am not happy to do this as ngos must manage their own affairs without state interference. But in the case of the slrcs, where huge foreign funds are involved, action has become necessary to bring it into proper order so that the foreign funding which is now suspended could continue."

Lankan ngos however, are agitated over the implications of this amendment and fear misuse of the provision to suppress any ngo critical of government policies or trying to expose bureaucratic scams. In fact, during the 17-year United National Party rule that ended in August 1994, several ngo activities were quelled. President Premadasa's infamous ngo Commission was dissolved by Premadasa's successor, D B Wijetunge in 1993. Now the Chandrika Kumaratunga administration seems poised again for an ngo-government confrontation.

Nalin Ladduwahetty, an ngo leader said, "Although the ruling party has changed, the bureaucracy has not. Bureaucrats have often found their grandiose schemes scuttled by alert ngos. this is the bureaucrats' way of hitting back!"

The report on the slrcs, which is lying with the minister of health and services has been submitted, but not yet published. Its outcomes are awaited.

Meanwhile in Africa, Zimbabwe has also passed a legislation to bring ngos under close scrutiny. All this is generating heat. "While we feel that the old Social Welfare Organisations Act was long overdue for amendment, we on our part as an international donor are worried and concerned with the implications of such a legislation," said Veronica Granath, an ngo leader.

Unhappy Zimbabwean ngos blame their mother body, the National Association of Non-governmental Organisations for failing to communicate to its members about the legislation.

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