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Ms. Sadiqa Salahuddin (Pakistan)

2 Civil society and political/institutional change

I. A. Rehman | Nitai Mehta | Sadiqa Salahuddin | Sri Ram Khanna | Akhtar Hameed Khan | DISCUSSION


Collaboration between NGOs and government is possible.

The contribution of the NGOs is not as visible as the number tells us.

NGOs have always been there in this part of the world but there role was restricted to running desirable institutions of community- service.

Information is power and that power is well-guarded by the government.

What we have seen closely, and we were pleasantly surprised, is that the government of Pakistan has very progressive policies … their implementation is the real issue.

The linkages of the civil society have a great potential to be strengthened because the people are the same, the issues are the same, there is a lot to learn from each other.

If we are serious about collaboration between the government and the NGOs then the NGOs will also have to do something to become more transparent and accountable because they are talking about the accountability of the government all the time.

Ms. Sadiqa Salahuddin, Director NGO Resource Centre, Karachi, presented an evolution of the NGO/ Government relationship and offered her views on the prospects for future.

Ms. Salahuddin pointed out that just as Pakistan is a land of contrast, the NGOs working in this country also present a contrast within their profiles: there are thousands of NGOs -- all types, all sizes, all kind of motivations, all kinds of alienations.

A study recently conducted by the NGORC estimated the total number of NGOs registered under the Social Welfare Act of Voluntary Agencies Ministry in Sindh as around 5000. It is estimated that the number of NGOs registered with the Social Welfare Ministries in all four provinces is around 17,000 while many more are registered under other laws.

Just as there are all types of NGOs, so are there all types of governments. It is very important in a country like Pakistan to know who is sitting where in the government and whether you know the right person – simply because there are all types of people in the government departments.

The role of dialogue between NGOs and Government is being felt and consultative meetings being held due to the international pressure for some kind of good governance imposed conditionalities by major funders like the World Bank: the government should be involved in providing environment for the civil society to play its role and the rest should be left up to the civil society itself.

There is a tendency of the market economy becoming exploitative and coercive just as there is a tendency for the government to become coercive and exploitative. "Who will play the watchdog? …And here comes the role of the civil society." That is why it is being said that the civil society should be made stronger and stronger so that it could ensure a permanent – and not a one-time – institution of public accountability.

Unfortunately, the need for dialogue has not been felt by the government itself but is mostly a result of external pressures. A case in point is the Social Action Programme carried out a couple of years back. The government eulogised its achievement but it turned out that the only part of the Programme that did meet success was the one covered by the NGOs whereas the part run by the government could not be successful due to lack of good governance. That all the Social Action Boards comprised of politicians was seen as one of the major reasons for this.

Most of the dialogue is on one-to-one contact basis but there is no institutional mechanism for continuing this dialogue on an institutional basis.

When the government and the NGOs work together they use phrases that they have picked up together but mean different things to different people, e.g. participatory development. By this particular phrase many government officials mean that the community should pick up some of the expenses for the facilities being offered rather than the community’s involvement in the whole process and in the decision-making. "Here, again, the dialogue suffers."

Another problem that needs address is that "there is a feeling among the NGOs that the government still thinks that the NGOs are their implementing arms." There is hardly any seminar where Orangi Pilot Project or Aga Khan Rural Development Programme is not mentioned but on the whole they are merely seen as sub-contractors to implement the plans made by the government and not as institutions who should be involved in decision making. NGOs always object to this saying that if they are equal partners then they should be involved in the entire process rather than seen as only the implementing arm for doing the dirty work.

As far as NGOs’ traditional role is concerned they were always present in this part of the world but they were usually doing community service and confined to running charity organisations. The government has no problem recognising this role of the NGOs but problems arise when the NGOs go beyond this traditional roles, for instance, "to explore the real causes of the poverty, … or when they move into advocacy, lobbying, or when they start talking about problems and collecting data, analysing it, coming up with alternate actions, alternate proposals, having dialogue, putting pressure, then the atmosphere in which the dialogues (between the government and the NGOs happen) is not very conducive."

Hence, on one hand the government is recognising the good work done by the NGOs and on the other hand the government is also coming up with legislative actions that are control-oriented, which are quite disabling to the NGOs to function.

Quite contrary to the common perception, the government of Pakistan has quite progressive policies. But what happens is that the policy documents are kept secret and that makes their implementation difficult. In some instances, even the district officers of the same ministry do not know about those policies and are unaware of the procedures. The reason for this secrecy about the policies is that "when you give information to the communities about those policies them that information empowers them and they can go and talk about their rights. And when they talk about there rights then they also raise all kind of questions and they even talk about the selection of their contractor." For instance, it was pointed out in one of the seminars on the Social Action Programme that the only group that has really benefited from the Programme is that of the contractors. "Now where have these contractors come from?" Obviously, the politicians and the bureaucrats do not wish to answer that because they have a very strong tripartite with the contractors – mostly the friends or relatives of the politicians – in which they all have a share.

Thanks to the NGO Bill, which is just one of the legislative actions desired by the government to increase its control, the NGOs that had so far been working in isolation have recently started coming together: now there are fora on all levels; at provincial levels as well as the national level. These fora are now recognised as bodies for dialogues."

Ms. Salahuddin pointed out that the problem was not the quality of work being done by the NGOs but the real issue was isolation – NGOs of various professionals and social workers need to come together so that their efforts are consolidated towards achieving common goals. In the international context also efforts in this direction also been made with the Asia-Pacific Movement in which Bangladesh is taking a lead role for solving issues like power, corruption, militarisation of the government, child labour, women rights, human rights – issues that are not confined to any geographical or administrative boundary but are common to all.

Capacity constraints and the organisational culture of the NGOs were pointed out as two important issue for the NGOs: sometimes the credit given to an NGO is more than their actual participation and therefore they have fallen victims to their own performance – hence the need for capacity-building among the NGOs. On the other hand, the perceptions that the government and the NGOs have about each other is related to the issue of organisational culture: the government thinks of the NGOs as extravagant in Pakistan (unlike their counterparts in India and Bangladesh), and to some extent they are right. Some NGOs have a culture that is closer to the corporate sector than the people whom they are claiming to serve. On the other hand the NGOs think the government is corrupt, and they are also partly right. An effort needs to be made to change these strong perceptions of each partner about the other.

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