THE ROLE OF THE NGO' S
(1998 July 15)
The International Alert (IA) has vacated its Kolomba office after the controversial dismissal of Ms. Frederica Jansz over an article written by her to the "Sunday Times" on LTTE fund raising activities in Norway. It is too early to speculate what they will do next, but it is hard to imagine that the IA will terminate its activities in Sri Lanka. It is intriguing that the IA has decided to vacate office after Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamer made a statement to the effect that the National Intelligence Bureau should investigate suspected LTTE front organisations in Sri Lanka.
The IA is a London based organisation, mainly financed by the Scandinavian countries. Its Secretary General is Mr. Kumar Rupasinghe. The IA tells the world that they are for peace and has organised seminars locally and abroad on the so-called ethnic problem or the problems created by Tamil racism in Sri Lanka. The Scandinavian countries have been very generous in financing various projects including the promotion of the G. L. - Neelan draft constitution, which if implemented will start a war in this country. (What we witness today is not a war. The government is duty bound to protect the state by defeating the LTTE. None of the NGO’s called the military operations against the JVP during the period 1987-90, a war.)
The NGO’s have been functioning in this country for more than forty years. We can see them everywhere and a lot of western money is pumped into these organisations. They are active in politics, literature, cinema, culture in general, ‘development’ of the villages, environment, media, human rights, women’s movement, and even in Bhikkuni Sasana. One of the most prominent persons behind the Bhikkuni Sasana movement is a Dharmapala who runs his own NGO and who happens to be a close associate of Mr. Kumar Rupasinghe, from the Janavegaya days.
We have been very critical of these NGO’s, but I must admit that no detailed study has been done on their activities in Sri Lanka. A commission was appointed to go into their operations but its work came to a standstill abruptly. It is high time that people in the Universities and other organisations such as the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, who are good at collecting data, pay their attention to the activities of the NGO’s.
However there have been some studies on the NGO’s in the other countries. Through these studies we can gain an insight into the role of the NGO’s, since the so-called cold war period when the USSR was in existence. In this respect, I will quote from a paper read at the round table, organised by the African Association of Public Administration and the UN Economic commission for Africa Special Action Programme in Administration and Management, in Nigeria in December 1990. Excerpts from the above paper (referred to as the AAPA paper) were published in "The Island" on the 27th and 28th of May 1991.
The NGO’s have two components. We have the local NGO’s active in the so-called third world and the donor NGO’s functioning in the western world. The donors provide the money and the activists are engaged in the operations. These operations, in Sri Lanka, could vary from conducting seminars mainly in English at the five star hotels to shouting slogans in Sinhala opposite the Kolomba Kotuwa railway station. The donors are not Vessantaras, and it is natural that they provide money only if they are satisfied with the activities carried out by the locals. It is clear that, in general, only those local NGO’s who can satisfy the donors with their project reports and meet their evaluation criteria will get the funds.
The relationship between the donors and the activists is not symmetrical. The AAPA paper states: "The fact that western NGO’s provide money for ‘development’, such as it is, gives them an easy access to African NGO’s. Periodically, the western NGO’s demand that their ‘partners’ (that is the activists – my terminology) open up their books and hearts to explain what they have been doing ‘with their money’. This is called Evaluation. …….. There is an unwritten law that says that where monies are spent they must be accounted for but where information is supplied there need not be any accountability on how that information is used."
It is well known that from the sixties onwards NGO’s in Sri Lanka have been collecting information on various aspects of the lives of the Sinhala villagers. The youth who are sent on ‘field work’ with questionnaires come back with vital information. What happens to this information? Who analyses the data? The westerners know that what passes for analysis in our countries is, very often, nothing but description and in any case they would like to handle the information themselves.
One of the most important aspects about these NGO’s is that the donor NGO’s are not that non-governmental. The AAPA paper comes out with the following: "For example, in Europe, the Dutch NGO’s Novib, Hivos and Snv are very active in Africa. Hivos gets 100% of its funds from the Dutch government, Novib gets about 70% and Snv, in fact, is a direct arm of the Foreign ministry. … A Canadian study, ‘Bridges of Hope’ brought out the fact that the Government of Canada, has increasingly taken over the funding of Canadian NGO’s…..Government funding has increased from a third to almost half between 1975 and 1984……..Explaining this, the authors of the book say: ‘government funding of NGO activity has increased markedly over the past decade. For the most part, these funds are part of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget, channelled through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) or provincial government matching grant programs; in addition, a few agencies receive funding from other federal and provincial government programs not included in the ODA budget."
Some of the donor NGO’s are products of the social context of their countries. The AAPA paper notes: " In the Netherlands, for example, there are four major NGO’s. Hivos, Novib, Icco, and Cebemo. Cebemo is Catholic, Icco Protestant, and in the Dutch public Hivos is known as ‘humanistic’ and Novib as ‘secular’…….
In Germany there are the ‘foundations’ linked with the four major political parties. There is the Konrad Adenaur Foundation linked with the Christian Democratic Party, the Friendrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) linked with the Social Democrats, the Friendrich Naumann Foundation linked with the Liberals and the newly founded Boll Foundation associated with the Greens.
Each of them gets taxpayers’ money in proportion to their share in the electoral vote in the Bundestag. In a sense, therefore they are NGO’s, but then they are also closely tied with political parties, and have thus definite political agendas of their own.
The Konrad Adenaur Foundation, for example, has had long historical links with the Catholic–dominated parties in many countries in Africa, and they openly espouse the virtues of ‘private enterprise’. The FES, on the other hand, is deeply involved in the trade unions and co-operative movement in Africa, and tends generally to push the social democratic perspectives on Africa."
Thus the donor NGO’s are very often supported either by the governments of their countries, in which case they represent the interests of the state or by the political parties where they represent a certain political philosophy relevant to those countries. The donor NGO’s are responsible only to the state or the respective political parties of their countries and are never accountable even to the activist NGO’s, let alone the public and the governments of the countries of the latter. These donor NGO’s clearly enforce the policies of their governments and/ or of their political parties The AAPA paper asserts: "They have their own ‘hidden agendas’ which is difficult for outsiders to fathom. The only guide we have is a historical one, namely, they all come from countries that have had a history of over 400 years of plunder of Africa, first in the form of direct slavery, then in the form of colonialism and now in the form of neo-colonialism."
In fact it is more than that. The donor NGO’s being agents of western states and political parties are an arm of the world imperialism. They are involved with funding the activist NGO’s which are in practise instruments of political, cultural, and economic imperialism. The west will rest assured only after they destroy or weaken the other cultures and establish their cultural hegemony over the whole world unless they are defeated by the others in the process. The activist NGO’s will propagate in their countries all the theories, concepts and ideology created in the west, for this purpose. Their functions in the political and economic spheres are also directed by the west with similar objectives. In Sri Lanka the NGO’s support Tamil racism, as the west wants to use the Tamils to destroy the Sinhala culture, and not because of any love for the Tamils.
As the AAPA paper also notes, the NGO’s gained added importance after the so-called civil movements against the regimes in the former socialist world. Many of these "civil movements" were organised by the western powers and they became very effective. The western powers have learnt how to organise these "civil movements" even in their ‘friendly’ countries. When the public opinion is against a particular regime in one of these countries they are in a position to direct these protest movements through the "civil movements" or the NGO funded "civil society", without allowing genuine indigenous movements to rise against the regime. The net result is either the establishment of another regime that can be manoeuvred by the west or the termination of the protest movement after a mere protest.
For example, what have these protest movements achieved during the last two decades or so, in Sri Lanka. Kandalama, Iranawila and so many other projects have gone ahead despite the protests by the ‘concerned’ NGO’s. It cannot be otherwise as the protest movements are also being directed by the same western countries who are involved with these projects.
The most interesting fact is that after the Soviet Union collapsed, the west was able to find people for their "civil societies" managed through the activist NGO’s from the Marxists and the socialists in our countries. These people who had lost their roots after being indoctrinated with Marxism, found a haven in the activist NGO’s and the NGO managed civil societies of the west to make their presence felt with their so-called protests. Most of the ex-Marxists in the former colonies are now faithful activists in the NGO’s financed by the ‘capitalist west’. I suppose the west would have learnt something from the USSR in this connection. We all know that the communist parties in our part of the world were maintained mainly by the Soviet Union.
The civil societies and the NGO’s only make sure that the western domination will continue in the future as well. They are being used by the west to propagate the western values, ideology, culture, political philosophies etc., especially among the villagers in our countries. In order to be successful in their venture, the activist NGO people wear the mask of the progressive enlightened intellectual provided by the west.