The non-government organisations have traditionally played an important role in the empowerment of poverty-stricken and marginalised population in developing countries. In war-ravaged post-independence Bangladesh, the NGO activities commenced through providing relief and rehabilitation assistance to the distressed and displaced population. Later, their work expanded to areas like poverty alleviation, micro-credit, food security, education, healthcare, women's empowerment, environmental conservation, disaster management, water and sanitation, land rights, human and labour rights, social justice and good governance. There are at present 2,625 NGOs registered with the NGO Affairs Bureau out of a total of around 22 thousand spread across Bangladesh. Of the total registered ones, 269 are international NGOs, while the local or national NGOs number 2,366. The number of NGOs receiving foreign grants during 2014-15 was found to be 781. The Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) conducted a survey on NGOs receiving foreign funds during 2016-17 to ascertain the state of their good governance, the challenges they face and how they can overcome those challenges. The findings have been released by TIB under the broad categories of notable initiatives in establishing good governance, legal limitations, good governance in the surveyed NGOs, irregularities and corruption committed by NGO-related stakeholders, causes, results and impacts of dearth in good governance, comparative picture of good governance in NGOs running with foreign funds in 2007 and 2017, conclusion and recommendations.
TIB findings provide interesting reading. Good governance has been classified into four categories, viz. institutional capacity and performance, transparency and integrity, representativeness-cum-participation, and accountability. It has been revealed in the segment on institutional capacity that there are implementation deficits despite existence of policies and guidelines on financial management, procurement, human resources, gender, etc. For example, maternity leave with salary is often not granted to female employees, and 'zero tolerance' policy is not always followed in case of sexual harassment. Rules are often ignored in procurements and recruitments. Staff members face difficulty as the policies and guidelines are mostly in English and they usually do not receive any training on these. Around 33 per cent NGOs with foreign funds do not carry out annual performance evaluation of the staff by following specific methods. Besides, almost half the NGOs do not have adequate training and incentive programmes for the staff.
Many deficiencies have also been observed in the area of transparency and integrity. For example, around 25 per cent of the surveyed NGOs do not have websites of their own. Besides, there is a dearth of updated information in around 40 per cent of the websites run by these NGOs. Around 70 per cent of the NGOs advertise their recruitment notices on job portals or in daily newspapers. But allegations of exerting influences by violating rules have been raised in some instances. Over 20 per cent NGOs were found to recruit personnel without publishing recruitment notices and through non-transparent means bereft of competition. Besides, there are also allegations of nepotism and irregularities. Around 80 per cent NGOs have specific procurement committees for ensuring transparency and integrity. But around 40 per cent do not have specific lists of goods and services suppliers. Besides, there is a tendency to select preferred suppliers by applying manipulative techniques and some NGOs have also been accused of embezzling through fake vouchers. There are complaints against some NGOs of siphoning off a large chunk of project funds and some CEOs reportedly take undue benefits by violating rules.
In the area of representativeness and participation, a tendency has been observed to select project beneficiaries in accordance with the advice of locally influential people instead of surveys or through consultations with local population and stakeholders. Although there are instructions for not conducting similar activities by more than one NGO in the same locality, this provision is also being violated quite often. The boards of directors of many NGOs have inactive or nominal members and some are also dominated by relatives and friends of the CEOs. The direct beneficiaries do not have any representation in over 70 per cent NGOs. Although there are female members on some of the boards, their effective participation has not been observed.
The accountability of NGOs to the financing and supervisory entities mainly remains confined to submission of monitoring, progress and audit reports. But these contain some subtle drawbacks. For example, there is a tendency to show only the successful sites to the funding representatives and evaluating consultants. Successes are also exaggerated by suppressing weaknesses. Although many policy decisions are supposed to be approved by the board of directors, sometimes the CEOs take decisions on their own. It is astonishing that around 80 per cent of the NGOs do not seek the opinion of beneficiaries by applying participatory methods. Most strikingly, almost 50 per cent of the NGOs lack any separate monitoring and evaluation department or related personnel, and less than 50 per cent have no formal system of filing or resolving complaints.
The TIB survey also reveals irregularities and corruption practised by some stakeholders. For example, there are allegations of influence-peddling by the officials of NGO Affairs Bureau, funding organisations and locally influential people in matters of recruitment. Sections of the district and upazila administration have been accused of taking money for issuing certificates, as well as on the pretext of observing national days. It is also alleged that the officials of NGO Affairs Bureau receive unauthorised benefits during inspections. A section of the bureau officials as well as intelligence agencies have also been accused of eliciting money during the approval process of NGO registration and project implementation.
The recommendations put forward by the TIB for improving NGO governance include: involving local population and beneficiaries in formulation and monitoring of projects; strengthening internal controls and ensuring accountability in case of irregularities and corruption; taking opinions of staff and their reflection in decision-making; framing and implementing code of conduct and inclusive human resource policies; ensuring transparency and competition in recruitments, promotions, skills development and incentives; constituting boards of directors with people who have no conflict of interests and are acceptable to the civil society; appointment of Ombudsman for bridging distance between the management and staff, handling grievances and ensuring accountability of top management. Remedial measures are warranted for promoting good governance in NGOs receiving foreign funds.
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