NGOs are facing a backlash globally
Sri Lanka during the war years bore the brunt of the global phenomenon of the growth and proliferation of the so-called Non-Government Organisations (NGOs). The secessionist war provided the opportunity for international NGOs to establish themselves in the country and to forcefully intervene in national affairs under the guise of humanitarian and anti-corruption activities and purported rural development projects.
Behind the scenes the NGOs were the ‘eyes and ears’ of the mythical ‘international community’ made up of just a few western governments and the United Nations (UN) organs controlled by them. They fed the western corporate media and western governments with manufactured news, analyses, and ‘advice’ that were designed to improve the prospects of dividing the country through international intervention.
Naturally, the NGOs resented the end of the war for the loss of opportunity, power and influence they had to suffer. Founded on their collective assessment that the current Sri Lankan government is politically too strong, and too popular for a developing country such as Sri Lanka, they are currently trying to undermine the government and the Sri Lankan nation through sponsorship of, and participation in, ‘protests’ on largely contrived issues. Their underlying concern is that the government’s vision of a truly independent Sri Lanka could, if copied by other developing nations, spell trouble for them and their backers at a global scale.
The purpose here is to throw some light on the NGO modes of operation globally and in Sri Lanka, with a view to place their involvement within the broader framework of the global growth and proliferation of the NGO ‘virus’ over the last four decades. The world is now ‘waking up’ to their nefarious activities, and is taking steps to curb their business through the introduction of new legislation, and censure and expulsion.
NGOs are not NGOs at all
Cutting through the NGO web of conspiracy that began to inflict the world since the mid nineteen seventies demands skills in deciphering the deceptive use of language: from the very beginning, the NGO movement stole the terminology of the Marxists such as “solidarity”, “people power,” “grass roots empowerment” and “gender equality” for camouflaging their operations and sloganeering.
The “NGO” label itself is the best example of deceptive nomenclature they adopted: in reality NGOs are not ‘non-governmental’ organisations at all as the name implies: they receive funding from foreign governments, in addition to the vast amounts of funding they receive from multi-national corporations (MNCs), international money lenders and corporate-funded private Foundations.
Leading international NGOs such as World Vision, CARE, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and Oxfam receive 80 – 90 per cent of their income from western government sources, the dubious Soros, Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, and the EU. But they have successfully spread the myth that they are “non-governmental”.
Contrary to their rhetoric about “grassroots” involvement, most NGOs are located in posh offices in urban areas, do not have a membership base, and are run by a self-appointed core management team with permanent tenure and absolute control while drawing lucrative salaries and enjoying extensive perks. In structural and operational terms, they are undemocratically operated entities only accountable to the foreign financiers.
The NGOs’ claim to be representing “civil society” obscures the existence of divided ‘classes’ of people in civil society, making it impossible for any ‘one’ group, other than established political parties, to meaningfully represent significant numbers of people in civil society. But they present themselves individually and collectively as civil society.
The term “solidarity” the NGOs have stolen from Marxists essentially means, in their context, channelling foreign aid to designated groups through mechanisms that resemble nineteenth century Christian missionary activity. This approach is totally alien to the original Marxist concept which meant solidarity within oppressed groups (women and people of colour) for common action against their foreign and domestic exploiters. NGOs on the other hand serve the neo-liberal aim of pulverising such groups to be manipulated to serve their interests.
Such deceptive use of language by the NGO movement helped them hide the real nature of the activities they were engaged in for several decades.
NGOs have created a new elite and shadow governments
NGOs world-wide have become the vehicle for a select group amongst the ambitious intellectuals, academics, lawyers and other professionals as well as journalists in developing countries to earn exorbitantly high incomes in hard currency, provided they are prepared collaborate with foreign governments and intelligence agencies to carry out their ‘dirty work”. Such participation has enabled the collaborators to reach a new elite status, distinct from that is defined by inherited wealth or high level government jobs, and from the “nouveau riche”.
Professor James Petras brands the new class as a “neo-comprador” group that trade in domestic poverty for personal benefit. Lacking solid organic support within their native societies, this new petty bourgeois thrives on international endorsement and rewards received in return for acting as the new viceroys who ensure conformity with the goals, values and ideology of the donors.
NGOs play an insidious political role in developing countries: they enter into collaborative relations with foreign neo-liberal elites and serve their agenda of criticising national governments of human rights violations and other crimes against humanity on flimsy grounds, as required by their masters. The humanitarian NGOs never denounce the free market policies of the IMF or the World Bank that impoverish the masses in their home countries.
Through such collaborations, NGOs foster a new type of cultural and economic colonialism in that the objectives of the programs they implement are restricted to the priorities of the Western funding groups; The projects are never voted on but ‘sold’ to the communities they purport to serve. The only accountability the NGOs display is to overseas financiers who oversee and review their performance according to objectives and criteria set down by foreign governments.
The most sinister aspect of NGO activity is that they compete with elected local leaders and other socio-political movements in developing countries for influence among the people, with particular emphasis on ethnic and other minorities, the poor, and women. They intervene in the domestic politics under the guise of forming ‘solidarity’ with minorities, clamouring for international intervention in conflict resolution.
Through these processes NGOs undermine democracy in developing countries by taking social programs and development projects out of the hands of elected local leaders, creating dependency on non-elected anointed local operatives of foreign governments. During any internecine conflict, they campaign for the division of countries under the pretext of ‘devolution’.
The NGO ideology depends heavily on identity politics, engaging in the dishonest polemic that poverty in developing countries is always caused by ‘exclusion’ and ‘gender or racial discrimination’ by their national governments. They routinely choose to ignore the obvious fact that poverty in poor countries cuts through racial, ethnic and gender identities. NGOs totally ignore the structural conditions of the ruthless globalised market economy, IMF privatisations and MNCs due to the handsome payments they receive from such free market operators.
The feminist NGOs’ fight for gender equality is confined to the micro-world of the household, and only addresses humdrum social and cultural issues such as patriarchy, sharing of domestic workload, family planning and divorce, portraying the equally exploited and impoverished male peasant the villain of the piece.
Transparency International, the model NGO
No other NGO embodies the above characteristics than the international NGO Transparency International (TI). Created by a person named Peter Eigen, a World Bank official who worked to create the organisational infrastructure for Globalisation, the expressed objective of TI is to ‘fight against corruption at the national level’. However, its funding comes from MNCs renowned for bribery and corruption in the developing world, and Western ‘development agencies’ renowned for subversion.
The disgraced former US energy company Enron, Shell Oil, which admits to have fuelled corruption in Nigeria, and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, who were ordered to pay billions of dollars in damages for their involvement in the largest health care fraud in the history of the US are some of the MNC financiers of TI. The Ronald Regan created notorious CIA front organisation, National Endowment for Democracy, with a record of attempting to destabilise legitimate elected governments in the developing world is also a big donor to TI.
TI’s Managing Director Cobus de Swardt is a former chair of the World Economic Forum (WEF). De Swardt replaced David Nussbaum who holds degrees in theology from Cambridge, and is an accountant with a background in venture capital firms. Previously he was a Deputy Chief Executive of Oxfam.
An intriguing aspect of TI’s existence is its total focus on the developing world, and more particularly on the Middle East; a large study it sponsored to evaluate the “systems of integrity” in a selection of countries in the Middle East did not include Israel, but included the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), just a territory under Israeli military occupation.
TI also puts out a global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) annually. The 2012 CPI deems more than two-thirds of the countries surveyed, predominantly the developing countries, as “very corrupt”. Only 53 of 176 countries surveyed attained a “passing grade” of 50 out of 100, with Scandinavia sweeping the board as usual, and not surprisingly, Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan share the lower end. The UK and the US managed the 18th and 19th standings respectively with China pushed down to the 80th place. Within the EU, sovereign debt struggler Greece was the “worst performer”.
A cursory look at the methodology adopted by TI in its ranking of corrupt countries shows the fraudulent nature of the exercise: the Index is an indicator of “perceptions” and TI is not being transparent about on ‘whose’ perceptions they base their rankings. Data is supposedly sourced from “independent institutions specialising in governance and business climate analysis” and the raw data or information on the sources is not readily available. Another hidden feature of the Index is that it only measure perceptions of corruption in the ‘public sector’. Reasons for not focusing on corruption in the private sector are not explained.
The ridiculous nature of this methodology is made patently clear by the results of a recent survey of 500 financial services professionals, conducted by the US market researcher Populus. They reported that nearly 25 percent of those surveyed believed that financial services professionals may “need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct in order to be successful”. Nearly 35 percent felt “pressured by bonus or compensation plans to violate the law or engage in unethical conduct.
The true objectives behind the totally disingenuous TI corruption prevention campaigns and the totally meaningless nature of the ‘pseudoscience’ behind concepts such as National Integrity System and CPI are now beginning to attract the attention of genuine university academics, exposing the MNC serving purpose of CPI.
NGOs and TI are facing a Backlash
After nearly forty years of uncontrolled growth and increasing levels of influence in international affairs, and domestic affairs of developing countries, the NGOs are beginning to get their ‘just deserts’.
Russian authorities have been concerned for some time about the thousands of NGOs using foreign funding to foment political unrest in their country: in 2006, The Russian security service, the FSB, broadcast a film showing four British spies, working as diplomats, and a Russian national attached to the human rights NGO ‘Moscow Helsinki Group’ downloading classified data from a transmitter hidden inside a fake rock left on a Moscow street.
In 2011, the head of the FSB accused US and other foreign intelligence services of using NGOs to spy on Russia and foment political upheaval in ex-Soviet republics. President Putin alleged that protests surrounding his re-election were orchestrated by US-funded NGOs via cash transfers from the US State Department.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) was expelled from Russia with effect from 1 October 2012 for “meddling in politics” through its grants. The termination of the USAID’s work in Russia is bound to seriously harm the operations of the election monitoring NGO ‘Golos’ and Russia’s largest human rights group, ‘Memorial’. Russia has also given UNICEF until Dec 31 to conclude its projects in Russia because Moscow “no longer requires the services of the international fund.
As of November 21, 2012, NGOs in Russia that receive finances from abroad and engage in political activities, defined as activities aimed at influencing the decisions of government, will be treated as Agents, and espionage statues of the Russian Criminal Code have been strengthened.
In addition, all receipts over $7,000 from abroad for use by Russian NGOs will need to be reported to the “Committee for Corruption and Anti-Terrorism.”
President Vladimir Putin also proposed bringing NGOs under closer government supervision, with the introduction of a set of criteria for evaluating the quality of services provided by them, as well as a public ratings system, to be finalised by April 1, 2013.Russiainsists that the new laws are about bringing order to the jungle of Russian NGOs and enforcing rules of financial transparency.
On November 21, following the new NGO laws coming into force,the Russian branch of TI was picketed by youth groups, with signs and slogans that urged it to register as a “foreign agent.” According to a public opinion survey conducted in July 2012, 64 percent of Russians expressed the view that it is unacceptable in the political life of a country to have NGOs financed from abroad.
It is happening in other countries too: in March 2012, the U.A.E. shut down the local office of the US based NGO National Democratic Institute, and the Gallup Poll Centre, and the German think tank Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. These expulsions from the Gulf came after these groups and other human rights and pro-democracy NGOs were expelled from Egypt last year following the Spring.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous leader in its 500 year history, accused some of the NGOs in his country of being “the fifth column of espionage”. According to journalist Eva Golinger, USAID poured at least $ 85m into destabilising the Bolivian government by training separatists from the predominantly white Santa Cruz district and to court the Indigenous communities through the environmental NGOs. In June 2012, foreign ministers of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) bloc countries passed a resolution that: “USAID openly meddles in sovereign countries’ domestic affairs, sponsoring NGOs and protest activities intended to destabilise legitimate governments. USAID operates via its extensive NGO networks, which it runs outside of the due legal framework, and also illicitly funds media and political groups.” The resolution was signed by Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
In September 2012, Pakistan expelled foreign staff of Save the Children, due to government suspicion that they helped US spies hunting Osama bin Laden to recruit Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor, who helped the CIA locate bin Laden. Afridi was charged with treason for helping the US and was sentenced to 33 years in jail.
In December 2012 Laos expelled Anne-Sophie Gindroz, the country director of Helvetas Swiss Inter-cooperation for slandering Laos in a letter, just prior to the 2012 “Implementation Roundtable” of donors, accusing the government of creating a hostile environment for civil society groups by stifling debate and freedom of association. The government viewed Gindroz’s letter as demonstrating her explicit rejection of the Laos’ Constitution and law, and its political system. She was given 48 hours to leave.
In India, the crime branch of Tamil Nadu Police and CBI have filed cases against four NGOs for violation the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, diverting funds meant for charity to fuel protests against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP). A German national with links to the NGOs was deported for assisting the agitators. The actions came days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in an interview to ‘Science’ magazine, accused NGOs based in the US and Scandinavia of funding anti-KNPP protests.
These developments show that at long last, the world is beginning to see the NGO conspiracy for what it is, and are taking remedial action. The NGO cabal in Sri Lanka is one of the most ‘engaged’ by international standards and may be the Sri Lankan government needs to take a careful look at their activities and the roles of local collaborators.
By Dr Kamal WICKREMASINGHE