Funded organizations and some considerations
There are many funding and funded organizations - particularly, UN agencies, donor agencies, international NGOs, national or local NGOs, research organizations and consulting organizations - that deal with development and other projects in Bangladesh. Historically, such organizations particularly INGOs have started working in Bangladesh since the British era, but large number of such organizations have recently emerged in independent Bangladesh, specifically in the 1990s. Thousands of such organizations are currently working in diversified areas and contribute to development in socio-economic, environmental and other fields in terms of poverty alleviation with micro-credit and other programs, education, health, policy research, etc. Without contributions of such organizations for years, it might have been difficult for the government sector alone to develop in a variety of fields.
With some variations, such organizations work in Bangladesh with various challenges - low level of inter-sectoral cooperation, lengthy fund release process, unfavourable tax regime, lack of relevant research and information, etc. - that affect project activities and expected project outcomes. With such organizations, at the same time, there are irregularities and concerns - financial mismanagement, unfair recruitment, lack of accountability and transparency, anti-state activities, etc. - that affect project activities, expected project outcomes and good governance of such organizations.
Certainly, all such organizations do not have all sorts of irregularities; some have more irregularities, some have fewer irregularities, and still others may not have any notable irregularities. Here, I will comment on some major irregularities and concerns. It is of note that the major source of relevant information of this writing is "Problems of Governance in the NGO Sector: The Way Out" of Transparency International Bangladesh.
First, financial irregularities and discriminations are certainly major concerns with funding and funded organizations. Some financial irregularities include disbursement of funds without necessary approval from the state, irregularities in purchasing logistics, providing of exaggerated and/or wrong information in the audit and financial reports, fake vouchers against procurement, tax evasion by high-ups of organizations, etc. For addressing financial irregularities, more effective measures - strengthening of financial management system including strengthened audit mechanism, reduction of chief executive's undue control over financial affairs, etc. - are essential.
Salary related irregularities and discriminations - irregular payment of salary and other monetary benefits, reduced payment of salary and other monetary benefits on the supposed amount mentioned in project proposal, discriminations in post adjustment payments, excessive discriminations in salaries of the high, medium and low level staffs, etc. - in some organizations are of particular concerns. In order to address these, measures including making of regular payments mandatory and eradication of discriminated post adjustment payment or minimization of it to a more acceptable level are needed.
Second, unfair and discriminated recruitments and promotions come about in funding and funded organizations. Unfair recruitment and, sometimes, promotion come about through personal relationship with the (executive) heads and other high-ups, nepotism, influence of project directors, donors (particularly in recruitment in funded organizations) and other influential persons including politicians and government officials. It is of note that some organizations do not have any standard recruitment procedure, but some organizations that have such procedure do not maintain it in recruitment. Also, recruitment criteria are sometimes inappropriate and manipulated for recruiting pre-selected candidates. Consequently, qualified candidates are often deprived of deserved recruitments.
Discriminations in recruitment take place in terms of post, age, etc. Indeed, there is limited or no scope for qualified young or relatively less aged candidates of high positions, though there are many such candidates in Bangladesh who can hold high posts and perform better than existing post holders - both Bangladeshi and foreigners. Years of experience as a criterion are a considerable barrier here. Years of experience are certainly important; but, on some occasions, experience in quality works is more important. It is also undeniable that some may perform better with only a few years of experience. Thus, measures including developing and employing fair recruitment procedure and relaxing required years of experience for exceptional young or less aged candidates should be taken into account.
Third, project implementation, monitoring and evaluation are considerably inappropriate. Indeed, there are many criticisms including inadequate monitoring and supervision of implementation of the projects, producing of exaggerated progress and evaluation reports, influencing consultants and evaluators to produce reports favourable to organizations, etc. On some occasions, achievements are overstated to show the desired change in the outcomes of the programs. As expected, strengthening of monitoring, and supervision mechanism, effective roles of donor and other related agencies in project implementation and monitoring activities, improvement of reporting process, etc. are necessary.
Fourth, development projects or programs are largely donor-driven or top-down based which are designed and implemented by different agencies in pre-planned terms, references and proposals in Bangladesh. Though donor-driven or top-down projects are based on globally and/or nationally prioritized issues, the vital concern is that such projects which, in most of the cases, provide limited scope of participation of grass root people undermine their actual choices and fail to make them benefited as per expectations. Moreover, focus of such projects is usually given on some vulnerably groups - women, poor, etc. - rather than on broader community. Increased focus on community driven projects with increased participations of grass root people and reflections of actual community needs as well as needs of vulnerable groups is thus very important for addressing such concerns.
Fifth, terrorist financing is a vital concern with some INGOs. Indeed, many instances have revealed terrorist abuse of charitable organizations worldwide to raise and move funds, provide logistic support, or otherwise cultivate support for terrorist organizations and operations in different countries across the world. In 2017, the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) of Bangladesh Bank, responsible for investigating money laundering, and the government intelligence agencies found seventeen Middle East based INGOs involved in militant funding in Bangladesh. For ending such practices, increased cooperation among relevant government, private and other agencies, along with strengthened monitoring and surveillance of banking transactions with foreign countries can be effective.
Sixth, it is often said that sexual harassments take place in such organizations. Moreover, female employees mostly cannot express such harassments for fear of negative impacts including loss of job. Though some organizations take some measures on some occasions, no strong action is usually taken against sexual harassments, even if there are relevant complaint cell in some organizations. In contrast, high-ups of organizations, as is alleged, reward female employees with promotion and other benefits in exchange of extra-marital and, sometimes, pre-marital sexual relations. In this regard, measures - including firing those who sexually harass female employees and who give and take benefits in exchange of such undue sexual relationship from jobs - should be taken.
Finally, respective funding and funded organizations usually take measures for addressing irregularities and concerns. Moreover, the NGO affairs bureau (NGOAB) - which monitors funding, coordinates with different stakeholders including development partners and ensures the accountability of NGO projects to the state as the regulatory authority - and, sometimes, government departments involved with any particular projects take some measures. But there are allegations that funding and funded organizations do not always take measures even if there are complaints, officials of government departments involved with projects and officials of the NGOAB take bribes in exchange of giving benefits, etc. Consequently, irregularities and concerns with funding and funded organizations are not adequately addressed.
In order to address irregularities and concerns in funding and funded organizations, it is thus indispensable to address concerns related to addressing of irregularities and make such organizations more effective in addressing other irregularities and concerns. There is no doubt that all such organizations should play respective roles. Yet, funding organizations and the NGOAB need to play more effective roles for addressing irregularities and ensuring good governance in funding and funded organizations in Bangladesh.
Amir Mohammad Sayem is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org