Controversial NGO policies
NON-governmental Organizations (NGOs) playman important role for fulfilment of human rights of general public.
Large number of such NGOs exist in Pakistan to satisfy those human rights, which are unfulfilled by state institutions.
NGOs also work for rural development, poverty alleviation through their micro financing programmes and collaborate with policy makers and legislators for formulation of policies, enactment of laws, and their effective implementation.
Hence, NGOs are making great contributions to the sustainable developments in Pakistan.
NGOs in Pakistan are growing quickly in numbers and outreach, but to a large extent, their potential is still under-utilized because of the restrictions imposed upon NGOs by the successive Govts.
On 26 March 2021, the Ministry of Economic Affairs has issued a list of 487 NGOs on its website, whose registration is pending with Economic Affairs Division (EAD) and their documents have been circulated to different stakeholders for necessary verification and checks. These 487 NGOs are at risk of cessation if their registration is denied by the EAD.
In 2013, Ministry of Economic Affairs, EAD, Govt of Pakistan introduced the ‘Policy for Regulation of Organizations Receiving Foreign Contributions’.
According to this policy, all NGOs either registered within or outside Pakistan and receive or intend to receive foreign economic assistance are required to be register and sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Govt. through EAD and the same shall maintain a register of such NGOs all over the Pakistan.
In 2015, the Ministry of Interior issued a policy for regulation of International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs)functioning in Pakistan.
This policy regulates the registration, working, funding, monitoring and other related aspects pertaining to all types of INGOs functioning in Pakistan.
NGO policies 2013 and 2015 make it compulsory upon the local and international NGOs functioning in Pakistan to register with Government.
For local NGOs, the registration authority is Secretary, Ministry of Economic Affairs, whereas for INGOs, the registration authority is INGO Committee at Ministry of Interior.
Federal Govt. registers NGOs and INGOs after receiving verification about them from all security agencies and relevant government authorities.
NGOs and INGOs have to apply for renewal of their registration with the ministries four months prior to expiry of their registration and this application will also be subject to clearance by relevant Govt departments and agencies.
The aforesaid registration process for local NGOs with EAD is in addition to the already availed registration by such NGOs with relevant Govt.
authorities established under different laws for registration of NGOs in Pakistan, e.g. Societies Registration Act 1860, Trust Act 1882, Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies (Registration and Control) Ordinance 1961, and Companies Act 2017 etc.
These laws regulate, evaluate and measure the NGO management, performance and services to avoid any irregularity and illegality.
Thus, the dual registration of NGOs with the Govt. is a useless exercise, which creates extra workload upon NGOs and EAD and hinders in their performance delivery.
The theme behind2013 and 2015 NGO policies was that all the funding coming from any foreign source is to be declared and approved by the Government, so that the Government has knowledge of source of incoming amount of money and its spending in the country.
But these policies are controversial on this aspect, that when INGOs operating in Pakistan bring foreign funding to Pakistan, they declare it to the Government of Pakistan and also inform the distribution of funding to local NGOs, who are already registered with Government institutions as a legal entity.
When the INGO’s declared amount of funding to Govt. of Pakistan is further distributed among local NGOs for the welfare projects within the country through banking channels under State Bank of Pakistan, it becomes the local funding, not directly received foreign funding.
So, receiving same information about funding from both INGOs and NGOs is a futile exercise. Only those local NGOs which receive direct foreign funding can be restricted to register with EAD.
Moreover, an online portal can be developed where it would be mandatory for NGOs to provide information about their projects and donors.
This will not only help to solve the purpose of oversight, but both the Government and NGOs will be able to know the types of interventions in all parts of Pakistan and can collaborate on various development projects.
Linking the clearance of NGOs with FATF is unjustified. In fact, the development sector is contributing to achieve the objectives of the FATF and Government in curbing terrorist financing and money laundering through their projects such as good governance, safer charity practices etc.
Importantly all donor money is channelled through proper banking channels and donors have their own forms and requirements to be completed by implementing partners to make sure that the funds are utilized only for the purposes described in the project proposals.
Provincial Govts have recently enacted the ‘Charities Registration and Regulation laws’ in the provinces for the registration, administration and regulation of NGOs including fund-raising and utilization of charitable funds.
These laws further impose restrictions upon smooth working of NGOs across Pakistan and bound them to register with the ‘Charities Registration and Regulation Commission’ established in every province.
Although, 2013 NGO Policy provides that it will remain in field only till the time an appropriate legislation is introduced in the field, however since 2013, no such action has been taken by the Governments.
In order to address the accountability aspects and the efficient regulations for the NGO sector, a law based on the model of the UK Charity Act, 2006 would be a rationale approach.
Under the new proposed law, a Commission under Federal Govt should be constituted having a mandate to register and regulate the NGOs in Pakistan.
The Commission shall formulate policies and effectively monitor the application of law and compliance with the statutory requirements, based upon which the NGO is registered.
The NGO community is willing to assist the Federal Govt. in formulating the draft of the proposed legislation.
The NGO sector in Pakistan is very concerned about the policies of the successive Governments, where it has become impossible for NGOs to operate in an environment of mistrust and complicated procedures for registration and signing of MoUs.
The incumbent Government is inviting foreign funding by providing facilities to boost up the economy. NGO sector has a great potential to bring foreign funding in the country, if the Govt.
is willing to provide relief by lifting the restrictions upon NGO sector of Pakistan and soothe its plight.
—The writer is a Lawyer, based in Islamabad.