90% OF AID TO NGOs CANNOT BE TRACED?
The Council for Non-Governmental Organizations in Malawi (CONGOMA) as a designated NGO coordinating body in Malawi feels duty bound to provide its opinion and register its profound surprise over Nation Newspaper article of Thursday, 8th September 2016 that “90% of aid to NGOs can’t be traced”. Our basis of opinion is on the fact that the article was wrongly premised and misrepresented the truth regarding NGOs and accountability in Malawi. The truth of the matter is that NGOs in Malawi are accountable and this is the more reason why donors are channeling more resources through NGOs.
NGO Board Study
The reporter refers to a study done by the NGO Board of Malawi that found that 90% of the aid (MKW131 billion) was not traceable. This is not true as well as the study done by NGO Board which NGOs took part in was an NGO Mapping exercise and not an NGO Accountability study. What NGO Board presented to CONGOMA is a Mapping Exercise report and a Press Release of 27 February 2016 (appearing in the Nation Newspaper) and not a Study on Accountability per say. Neither is the issue of NGO accountability mentioned in this report or Press Release. What the article quoted as its source has no empirical basis unless if the NGO Board is keeping the study findings a secret. It is, thus, professionally outlandish for any credible media institution worth its salt to use this inference to publish such a sweeping article.
Non compliance does not equal lack of accountability
In the article, it is claimed that in the 2015/2016 financial year, submission of audited financial statements was at 5%. This is simply a compliance issue which the NGO board, if credible must do soul searching and ask why NGOs are not complying. We strongly demand that Accountability should not be equated with compliance. Most NGOs in Malawi conduct donor and institutional audits but do not submit their reports to NGO Board for one reason or the other. It is therefore inconceivable to say that finances for such NGOs cannot be traced. If a study was indeed conducted, it should have established factors behind such low ‘compliance to the NGO board. Further respective donors should have already raised an alarm regarding NGOs which have not been accountable to them.
NARROW FOCUS OF ACCOUNTABILITY DISCOURSE
The article miserably concludes that accountability for NGOs begins and stops with NGO Board. No. There are many models and ways of being seen to be accountable including the following:
- Upward accountability where NGOs account to whoever relevant authority is above them including funders; NGO Board; Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies; Local Councils etc.
- Downward accountability in which NGOs account to those below them including beneficiaries and grassroots organizations etc. These two models fall under Vertical accountability model.
- Horizontal accountability where NGOs account to fellow NGOs or similar institutions.
With the foregoing it is very surprising and worrying that the article dwelt much on one institution and one level of accountability and made a headline conclusion that NGOs are not accountable. The article did not even ask the Development Partners whose money to NGOs is alleged to be untraceable, to confirm if indeed NGOs that they gave aid to have not reported to them as funders. The author should have gone a step further to take to task the NGO Board to explain why there is low NGO compliance.
The media and the general public may wish to know that much as NGOs in the country take cognizance of the existing NGO law in the country, the NGO Board, itself has a lot to do to clear its image. For a long time, the NGO Board has behaved as a political institution used by the government of the day to deal with any critical voice in the country. The trend has degenerated into suspicion and distrust between NGOs and Board. NGOs, especially those in the governance sector have, as a result, opted for other models of accountability.
- Aid to NGOs
It is positive to note that the article mentions that 70% of off- Budget resources are now going to NGOs. This is good news indeed as it shows the confidence Donors have in NGOs. There is no way the donors could have kept pumping such huge resources into the NGO sector if the latter failed to account for the resources. The media and the general public may further wish to know that donors in partnership with the NGOs develop their policies and procedures of tracing their resources including adhoc spot-checks in the communities where the interventions are being carried out. As such, can the author of the article, Mrs. Suzgo Khunga go deeper on this to disclose the NGOs whose resources are untraceable and their respective Donors?
In view of the above, we call upon:
- The media to robustly and religiously verify stories to avoid one sided articles which smack of malicious intentions and narrow focus.
- The NGO Board not to be seen to be rushing to the media without complete analysis of information or with information that begs more questions than answers. This would help cement existing legal and operational relations with CONGOMA and the NGO community.
- The Donor community to publish names of NGOs that have benefited from donor funding indicating amounts, project being funded, period of funding, budget lines funded and so on for the public to appreciate. This is one way of downward accountability for the Development partners to practice as a way of life. The donor community should also come out in the open to CONGOMA on the said lack of accountability if it is there so that CONGOMA can help in dealing with the situation
- The Donor community to continue supporting the NGOs and Government alike because both are mutually relevant to national development in Malawi.
In conclusion CONGOMA would like refute the reasoning behind the article as it does not represent the truth about NGOs and accountability in Malawi. We would also like to mention that NGOs are here to stay. Some Media outlets may not like some NGOs for one reason or the other but the bottom line is without NGOs, Malawians will be much poorer than the 52% poverty level we see today. All Malawians need to support the work of NGOs morally, socially, materially and financially for the betterment of the marginalized groups in society. At the same time Malawians are called upon to religiously follow and probe the work of NGOs and ensure continued effective delivery of public benefit purposes.