Editorial, The Sunday Observer
Some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and their funding agents in International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) have acted in the most unbecoming manner in Sri Lanka. They even played a sinister role during Sri Lanka’s relentless battle against terrorism from 2006 till mid-2009.
Certain countries which project themselves as the godfathers of democracy do not permit the NGOs or INGOs to do as they please in their countries. However, these Western countries expect Sri Lanka to permit INGOs and NGOs to conduct themselves in a high-handed manner.
The Government has taken the right decision and the most appropriate step to discipline errant INGOs and NGOs. Although the NGO goons here, who thrive on international funding and shout from the rooftops, are ready to betray the country for a mess of pottage, the Government’s decision to check INGOs and NGOs is commendable.
In point of fact, the Government’s decision on INGOs and NGOs was long-overdue. No sovereign state would permit INGOs to act in a manner as they have done in Sri Lanka.
Most of these IGNOs tarnished the country’s image by pumping oxygen to Tiger terrorists who had shown no mercy to human life during Sri Lanka’s humanitarian operation which had rescued over half a million civilians from the clutches of the LTTE.
All NGOs registered with the NGO Secretariat have been reminded not to overstep their registration mandate, by conducting press conferences, workshops, training journalists and issuing press releases. Would any of these Western godfathers who pontificate on freedom of expression permit INGOs to conduct press conferences in a manner which threaten their national security?
The NGO Secretariat under the Defence Ministry is empowered with regulations and administer NGOs under an Act of Parliament. Amendments have also been made in 1998 and 1999 to strengthen the Act.
INGOs operating in Sri Lanka should by no means ignore the assurance they had given at the time of their arrival in Sri Lanka. Some local NGOs have also become stakeholders of sinister operations of INGOs due to the lavish funding they receive.
It was reported that some INGOs, under the auspices of certain Western missions here, are trying to ‘buy’ witnesses to give evidence before the controversial UNHRC panel that is unilaterally investigating alleged human rights violations during the battle against terrorism.
It is said that certain INGOs, through their local NGO goons, had offered a cash bonanza ranging from Rs. 50,000 to 100,000 to Northern Tamils to give evidence with concocted stories against the Security Forces. Is this what one expects from these INGOs which are operating here ostensibly in the guise of humanitarian and charity work?
What if an INGO were to operate in such a manner in the US or the UK, threatening the national security of these countries? Will the US or British governments adopt the same yardstick and tolerate such insidious acts?
NGOs and INGOs in Sri Lanka have been instructed not to go beyond their objectives, mission and vision as outlined by them at the point of registration with the NGO Secretariat here.
In this scenario, NGOs can conduct press conferences and training sessions for journalists and other workshops, only if these are within their stated objectives at the time of registration with the NGOs Secretariat.
It is deplorable that certain media personnel have already attributed this move to a clamp down on NGOs in the country. The Government does not have any intention, whatsoever, to strangle NGOs and INGOs or obstruct their activities as long as they do a sincere social service. But talking about a common candidate for the next Presidential election or educating citizens as to how they should vote is certainly not the done thing.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that there are a few INGOs and NGOs that are doing a great deal for the betterment of the masses. They even go that extra mile to help those in need. Whatever said and done, their overall operations and activities should be within the country’s legal framework. This is something nobody in their right senses would challenge, except for the NGO goons who make hay while the sun shines.
NGOs are required to furnish information relating to the objectives, names of directors, number of employees, funding sources, target groups, annual expenditure and the amount of funds that will be brought to the country at the time of their registration with the NGO Secretariat.
INGOs here should not represent the shady interests of their mother countries. Be it an INGO or any other organisation or association, for that matter, they should abide by the laws of the land and respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They have no right whatsoever to play political games under the pretext of educating voters or a specific segment of the society.
There is a pressing need for measures to rope in errant agencies for lack of accountability and political involvement. The recent announcement on the conduct of INGOs and NGOs is certainly nothing new. The regulations prevailing are not new measures but an enforcement of what already exists.
What baffles most people is the huge volume of funds that have been pumped by INGOs. To cap it all, whenever there is a general election or a presidential election, additional funds are being pumped. What eventually happens to that money is anybody’s guess!
The best evidence is the controversial conduct of certain INGOs and their local NGO partners in the lead up to the last Presidential election in January 2010. They resorted to everything under the sun for a regime change with the blessings of a few Western missions here. No other country would have permitted INGOs of this nature to operate in such a disgusting manner and meddle in the country’s internal affairs.
Most INGO representatives in Sri Lanka assume they are diplomats and expect diplomatic immunity to cover up their sins. Over half of the funding that come from overseas for the INGOs based here and the local NGOs is used to maintain their big wigs. In other words, less than a quarter of the total funding is spent on charity or humanitarian work as a sizable amount is spent for operational costs and salaries for middle and minor staff.
Certain INGOs in Sri Lanka act as mere facilitators for some Western missions providing data and intelligence surveys. Since they have easy access to almost all places to provide humanitarian aid, they exploit their top officials to gather sensitive information to feed their foreign funding agents and Colombo-based diplomatic missions. In this context, Sri Lanka is definitely a land like no other for unscrupulous INGO agents.
Nevertheless, it’s better late than never. The Government has at long last taken the right decision to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. If we permit NGO goons to play their dirty games in the guise of providing humanitarian aid, Sri Lanka’s hard-earned peace would be at stake.
A handful of INGOs and NGOs render a yeoman service with dedication. It is not they who pressed the panic button following the recent announcement but those who had used NGOs and INGOs and acted as contract agents of certain Western missions.
Genuine INGOs should not for a moment feel that the Government is restricting INGO/NGO activities. Such organisations are most welcome to continue their praiseworthy humanitarian operations here. INGO and NGO ‘merchants’ would not be permitted to use human rights as a tool and sully the country’s image in the eyes of the international community to earn ill-gotten dollars, euros and sterling pounds.