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NGO's: Who controls them?
Fr. E.W. Rogers, S.J.
October 24, 2002


If your bank insisted that every cheque needed to be cleared by their Chief Executive, how much business would they do?

A bank would not make any rule that made their operations that clumsy and slow, but governments and other big organisations are often not so sensible. They need, just as the banks do, to define a series of different levels at which decisions of varying levels of importance are made. People who like inventing new words are coming to call this idea the Principle of Subsidiarity.

As far as it affects government, subsidiarity can be defined by saying: GOVERNMENT SHOULD PERFORM ONLY THOSE ACTIONS AND PROGRAMMES THAT THE PEOPLE ARE UNABLE TO DO FOR THEMSELVES

This means that only national issues are the business of the state and all local activities should be left to other organisations in the country. National defence, health, education, taxation are some of the areas for which the state is responsible. Subsidiarity is the principle on which local government works, but it should also apply to other areas of activity which local government itself is either unable to perform, or because of its bureaucratic structure, cannot perform effectively with and for the people.

Zimbabwe has a long standing tradition of active Non-Government Organisations (N.G.O.'s) ranging from Jairos Jiri, to Shelter Trust, Child Protection Society, Help Age and very many other N.G.O's and over one hundred that have sprung up in the last seven years to help in the situation of HIV/AIDS. Earlier than this, of course, the various churches founded schools and hospitals countrywide for the local people and most of these are still operating. These hospitals provide the major part of medical services in the rural areas under Zimbabwe Church Related Hospitals (ZACH). Though not strictly speaking N.G.O's, these hospitals and their extension medical services are to a large part voluntary inputs to help the needs of the people. Church missions have spawned a large number of N.G.O's to help people in various areas of needs, such as agricultural development, savings clubs, and self-help projects for youth and women.

Many N.G.O's now feel threatened by a recent government announcement (Sept. 13th) on registration, making it a criminal offence if they do not register. Sometimes the registration may take about one year and if they are to "cease operations immediately" what will happen during that year to all the people they are serving?

Admittedly, most N.G.O's obtain considerable funds from donors outside the country as they cannot raise sufficient for their needs here in Zimbabwe. Similarly, government is obtaining massive food assistance from outside donors at the present time. In any case the donor funds the N.G.O's receive add to the limited amount of foreign currency available in Zimbabwe and so benefit government as well as the people.

Donor Governments always used to grant donations directly to the governments of developing countries, but, in recent years, they have begun to make some donations directly to N.G.O's as they have found that some governments either misuse the funds or too much of the funds is taken up in bureaucracy. They note that often the N.G.O's, being closer to the people, can make more effective use of smaller sums of money than governments do.

Government is complaining that N.G.O's are assisting the opposition parties. If this is so, only a few N.G.O's are guilty. Government should distinguish between such N.G.O's and the majority which are only concerned with people. They do not need to bring in strict laws to regulate every one. The Welfare Organisations Act has been in force for many years to guard against illicit donations and ensure that N.G.O's present audited accounts yearly to the Registrar. N.G.O's are also required to present their Constitutions to the Registrar for approval and are required to follow them. This is sufficient and makes it possible to de-register or prosecute those organisations violating the Act.

N.G.O's, or Welfare Organisations should stick to their brief and not get involved in party politics as they were not founded for that. The organisations concerned with human rights may be considered a difficult case. Their concern should be criticising violations of human rights whether by government or by an opposition. This was the brief of the Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission during the Smith government period when they published reports on atrocities. Our President, Robert G Mugabe, praised this Catholic Commission for its stand when he was present at one of its meetings in the early 80's. He thanked them for the work they had done in publishing injustices committed by the Smith regime and said "that we expect you to criticise us, too, if we go wrong". This the human rights groups do today, as it is their brief. They should not favour one political party against another but treat all equally.

During the Smith regime, Christian Care had a large programme to help political prisoners and their families, many of whom are now leaders in Zimbabwe. Christian Care funds were raised from outside the country, from Britain and European countries mostly, as they could not obtain funds for such work inside the country. Christian Care, though being funded from outside, was and is an indigenous Church organisation and the same applies to most of the involved N.G.O's at present working in Zimbabwe.

There are, however, a few which have come from outside and these should be reminded of the requirements to be impartial, if they are not so already.

It is interesting to learn that the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) is working out a code of ethics for N.G.O's which it hopes to implement soon. Government should welcome the work of N.G.O's who have done much to help develop the country and be prepared to work with them, rather than legislate further in any way which may restrict their work with people in need.

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