Code to rein in NGOs on the cards
ISLAMABAD, Feb 6: A proposed code of conduct for non-governmental organisations, giving sweeping powers to the government to regulate the functioning of NGOs and tightening supervision of civil society’s activities is likely to be enforced by the end of this month. The step is claimed to be aimed at stopping NGOs from being used by criminals and terrorists.
The draft of the code, a copy of which is available with Dawn, makes frequent references to misuse of NGOs by criminal elements because of huge cash transactions involved in their work, their inexperienced and amateur directors and trustees and their operations in regions known for criminal and terrorist activities. However, draft falls short of making out who would be considered as criminals.
The regulatory framework, as proposed in the code, includes measures to assess the performance of NGOs, to find out how they get and spend their funds and to impose strict punitive actions, like freezing assets, dissolving board of directors and even closing down an organisation.
Civil society representatives have criticised the proposed code of conduct saying it is another attempt to stifle independent thinking and to strip them of their role of spreading awareness among the masses.
The vibrant NGO sector in the country has some 50,000 registered organisations, although it is widely believed that the actual number would be almost double this figure.
The NGO sector has grown phenomenally and in many respects it is being seen as an alternative to government-sponsored development projects. But what apparently irks the government most is criticism by a certain section of the civil society of its human rights violations and its governance and accountability policies.
The draft document doesn’t define what would constitute an offence sufficient enough to initiate action against an NGO, but it does say that an organisation can be proceeded against on the basis of complaints by the public or reports by agencies.
An interesting aspect is that the code has been jointly prepared by the International Programme of the Charity Commission and the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education with ‘exclusive input’ from Wafaqul Madaris, the federation of seminaries in the country, which has given assurance to support the code.
The code directs NGOs how to manage their accounts, use donations and run administration and to be vigilant against criminal financing and misuse by criminals.
Their accounts will be subject to audits by regulators to ensure that they are not abused by criminal groups.