Are NGOs a boon or a bane for development ?

Chitral — Failure of good governance in Pakistan led to the sprouting of foreign funded NGOs in the early 1980s. These NGOs initially selected soft areas like Chitral district and Northern areas to commence their operations. Ever since there is no looking back. NGOs with fancy names (at times difficult to pronounce even their abbreviations) have spread like wild mushrooms across Pakistan targeting mostly backward areas, but now many in the major cities of Pakistan too.

The primary objective of an NGO is to provide welfare service to people in areas where the government has not done much, but have they been successful in doing so is a debatable question. Taking an example of Chitral district which has probably the highest per capita NGO density in the world, but collaterally it also has a similarly high per capita quantum of unsolved problems too.

What have the NGOs done in these many decades that they have been functioning compared to the donations made to them by international donors can be debated. According to one dissapointed Chitrali if all the money doled out to the NGOs by international donors since their inception was distributed as cash amongst individual Chitralis, every person would have been a multi millionaire and they could have contributed from this money to get developmental works done and supervised them as they would have personally been involved in such affairs. The present system of working of NGOs through selected committees is not the best system, rather a cause of creation of mafias and sub mafias.

Presently the total incompetence and ineffectiveness of the government makes the NGOs seem a better hope. This phenomenon can be correlated to the mindset of the people in Pakistan who after getting a good thrashing from a certain government (PPP) opt to vote for the PMLN government in next elections and after getting thrashed by them get back to the PPP government, perpetually trying to find which is the lesser evil. This phenomenon is also seen in the correlation between the government and NGOs. Whenever there is a failure somewhere, the government puts the blame on the NGOs and vice versa.

An honorable and self esteemed nation should have an honest, efficient and trustworthy government. If it cannot manage that, then the NGOs that replace it would be no different. — CN Editorial, 14 June 2017


  1. That is perfect analysis i would say. We are looking forward for better management and good governance. Obviously that could not be the one’s who have been tried multiple times .. But AKRSP introduced a rural support program involving people at grass root level, still there were loopholes and the corrupt mentality defeated that approach as well on many occasions .. The current thekadari system and launching project without explaining it to public is beyond understanding .. from the approach it looks like that .. the NGO are there for ever .. now even trying to raise endowment fund from public money .. what a shame.

  2. Yes, it boils down to having an honest and efficient government to do the job which NGOs take up on themselves. The foreign donors should donate directly to the local government which is elected at the grass root level by the people and is accountable to them, while NGOs operate with the help of few influential persons of an area and are not accountable to the people nor the government.

  3. With due respect to the Editor, Chitralnews, I beg to disagree with this analysis. The NGOs cannot be blamed or held responsible for the lack of good governance and efficient management of the public sector. The fact is that Chitral is one of the least funded districts in KP (it gets much smaller portion of the public funding as compared to other districts in KP) but it has much better indicators of education, health, community institutions, and human resources as compared to many other districts in the province. Had the NGOs not invested in the district, the overall socio-economic conditions in Chitral would not have been different from those in Upper Dir or a few other districts in KP. Certainly, NGOs have their own limitations and weaknesses but they have many strengths as well. Every penny that has come to the NGOs has been used in Chitral and by Chitralis – some might have benefited more than others – but the combined investment made by the NGOs has certainly contributed immensely to the collective economic growth of the district. While the NGOs should appreciate constructively critical feedback from the local people and key stakeholders and act upon such feedback to improve their services, we should also discourage the attitude that is best described by this Chitrali axiom “Yor ki ma sora no toritay kalafgaana di no torar”.

  4. A well worded comment by Fida Muhammad sahib. Usually whenever someone criticizes an NGO for any reason, a battery of ‘defenders’ is let loose on the poor commentator to make him regret the day he decided to criticize the NGO, but here I see a sole commentator speaking in defense of the performance of NGOs and that too in a civilised and intellectual manner. This is a good sign. The fact nevertheless remains that NGOs could have done far better in proportion to the funds they receive. Can any one deny the fact that lion’s share of an NGO donation is used up in maintenance of the NGOs itself by way of over heads and administrative expenses.
    As for your other point, of course if somebody is a direct beneficiary of an NGO he will not dare criticize it. Only someone who is not bought over by favours nor seeks any, can objectively evaluate the performance of any public organisation, as a moral duty and for the good of the poor people for whom the charity is donated.

  5. Nothing is for free. We have to pay back in different ways to the donors. Making NGO and funding for it has many hidden agendas and you never know for decades until you see the result. For Example, Foreign consultants working for NGO may be involved in collecting sensitive information from innocent people of the area. Secondly, why donors link the continuity of fund with empowerment of women in the area? It is an international plan to destroy the family values of Muslim via NGO and Media. Thirdly, Donors give you money to develop your education system but they link it to take out Quran and Sunnah from the course. Donors are not supposed to impose their ideas if they are really sincere with us. It is a reality and think about it if you love your country.

  6. Apropos Chitralnews editorial and comments thereon. Being a keen observer of the New World Order (NWO), of which the NGO framework is an integral part I have some useful information to share with the readers. The NWO envisaged that NGOs would mobilize funds and the communities for participatory development, Governments would create enabling environment and private sector generate funds for the new order to succeed. But unfortunately from the word go these NGOs were hijacked by vested interests and agencies to sell their agendas. The Arab Spring and Orange Revolution of Ukraine were allegedly engineered by NGOs sponsored by George Soros and the results are for everybody to see. The very collapse of NWO can be attributed largely to the negative role of NGOs.
    It however does not mean that all the NGOs are bad. There are honorable exceptions. One would have loved to include AKDN among these exceptions, had it not been for some of its components, who failed to come up to the vision of His Highness and ended up breaking social fabrics without being able to replace them with better ones and in the process promoting culture of impunity and parasitical mindset. The rest of the NGOs have very little to celebrate. Not only they adopted faulty methodologies but also set wrong priorities. Bulk of the funds ended up in administrative costs and very little went into productive sectors. That is why the Governments have now decided to regulate these NGOs obliging them not to spend more than 15% on overheads and change course from being activity driven to result oriented.
    Had the elements of sustainability and accountability been instilled in these outfits from day one the results would have been entirely different. The micro-hydels would have become sustainable which they are not. Without drawing lessons from this experience the NGOs decided to go for medium-sized hydels but the company which is supposed to manage them is yet to be established. Even then contracts for constructions have been awarded and sites chosen which are faulty and doomed to fail again. For example here Begusgt power station has been designed on a stream which failed to run a micro-hydel but is now being projected to generate 11 times more power. Precious forest wealth has been destroyed to make room for the channel. Allegations of opaqueness in contracting in violation of conflict of interest have already been raised. There are allegations of misuse of funds forcing the management to force the poor community to do free labour to make up for the shortfall in funds. The case reached the Police Station which intervened to ensure wages to the workers. Same allegations are coming from Parabeg. Lessons do not appear to have been learnt from past mistakes.
    A few years back the donor NGOs decided to outsource their field work to local support organizations (LSOs) which they sponsored but failed to exercise supervisory control to ensure rule of law, transparency and accountability. For example an LSO was established for Garam Chashma in 1998 but only two AGMs were held resulting in the entrenched position of a group which continues to run the roost in the LSO. Audits are routinely carried out but without AGM these serve no useful purpose. Bad loans, misuse of funds, misappropriation and outright corruption charges are galore with no action around the corner. Registering authority and sponsor GNOs excuse themselves by saying that it is for the community to put things right but the community has not been empowered to do such things. Few of the aware members are running from pillar to post to get justice. One such delegation from Munoor came to me to put their grievances across. It was ironic to hear that after failing to get response from the sponsor NGO they visited military officers, intelligence outfits, district administration and elected forums to redress their grievances but to no avail. They were complaining that their common land was selected for plantation by an NGO on the condition that the community would look after the forest and the income coming from it would be posted in the accounts of all the members but so for nothing has been paid to them. The management even refuses to disclose details about the funds while the community still continues to do free labour.
    Thus caught between the rock and the deep sea the people are waiting for miracles to happen. Is it not a recipe for the failure of NGO concept and the new world order for that matter? These NGOs were meant to empower the common man but instead they empowered the already powerful or created new power centres by favouring well connected individuals with fabulous salaries and perks. The resultant social stratification and money power has not only divided the society but has also given birth to jobbery with all its negative concomitants. These comments should not be taken to mean that NGOs should be abolished. No, never.
    These NGOs should be reformed, made accountable, transparent and allow mobility periodically so that new and fresh blood can come in to instill vigor, broad based ownership and vitality in these outfits. There should be fixed tenures for office bearers not exceeding two tenures. AGMs should be regularly held and audit reports acted upon. Problematic LSOs not willing to change should be taken over by appointing Administrators for house cleaning and holding of credible AGMs to whom control may be transferred. This power vests in the registering authority and its nominee (DC). Sponsor NGO should be morally responsible to facilitate this action by writing to the competent authority. It should not be a problem provided they (sponsors and LSOs) are not hands in gloves with each other. If these corrective measures are not taken and some heads not allowed to roll, there is going to be more bitterness and trust deficit in the community renting the social fabric further apart beyond repair.

  7. Apropos comment by Syed Nazir, let us give NGOs their dues. The concept of an NGO is fair and benevolent, it is how they are put on ground should be discussed. Casting aspersions on their intentions without ample proof may not be fair. Empowering women in a healthy manner is one good thing NGOs can do. This is not against muslim family traditions. In most of the muslim world women are duly empowered . If we stick to primitive traditions it is a regional issue not Islamic. Culture is not a dead twig. It should be refreshed from time to time with the requirement of the time. Only thing is the change should be for a better and healthier society.