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Participatory development and poverty

Although there is no direct relationship between the rise in abject poverty and participatory development, but an earlier report in these pages alleging embezzlement in relief supplies by the connected and rich people makes a pressing case to see where we went wrong. We were known for altruism, self help, care for the poor and cooperative life but today we only read about them in books or hear them from our elders with nostalgia. A common man is unable to make sense out of it that how come in this age of opulence and interventions poverty has risen so dramatically. To understand this phenomenon some background information would be in order.

With the defeat of communism in Russia, the ideologues of capitalist world came up with the premise that without addressing the issue of poverty the gains of capitalism can not be secured. Dr. Mehboobul Haq, then working in the World Bank, came up with his trickle down theory of development, whereby rich countries would be required to aside a portion of their budget to be given to poor countries bilaterally or through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.


To channelize and control disbursement of the poverty alleviation fund, as it was called, establishment of non governmental organizations (NGOs) were encouraged and supported saying that government machineries in third world countries were corrupt or lacked capacity to do the job. Some people saw elements of cultural onslaught and some political and economic domination and yet others neo-colonialism in this emerging new world order. To the argument as to how the manpower selected by the NGOs from these corrupt countries can deliver efficiently it was counter argued that trickle down theory will take care of it.

During the second tenure of PML government NGOs had become powerful and the government itself felt the heat and decided to control and regulate the working of NGOs but before it could do something PML government was dismissed and was replaced by what some people called NGO government. During this period NGOs coined a new more respectable name of civil society organizations for themselves and improved their image by participating in the movement for free judiciary.


There are many countries in the world where NGOs have contributed significantly in reducing poverty. India and Bangladesh are few such examples. The distinguishing feature of NGO working in these countries has been strong government oversight, empowered public and correct legal paradigm. In Pakistan the government divested itself of responsibility and looked the other way while its employees joined NGOs still drawing salary from government exchequer, to make extra bucks in utter violation of service rules and at the cost of good governance. Here lies the crux of the problem and consequent derailment of the participatory process and creation of new rich, exacerbating class conflict in societies where it did not exist before.

As a result of this contrivance government’s capacity to deliver was further undermined and it went into hibernation. Bad governance or lack of it became household words. This mismanagement had negative consequences for societies, depending on their level of awareness and Chitral was the most effected. In 2004 when I obliged the local community to help them in consolidating a community based school in Chitral after seeking premature retirement from a well paid prestigious government job, my first impression on arrival here was that every body in Chitral was looking for donation and the slogans of quality education and development were just covers. This impression is borne out by a letter of a donor representative, alleging embezzlement of 40,000/ pounds that they had generated for a project. As no documentation existed so there was no trace of the money.


Drawing lesson from this episode I decided to first go for documentation, rules, regulations and procedures to obviate chances of such embezzlement in my institution. Linkages were developed with donors for scholarship support, teacher training and building expansion to accommodate increasing number of students. The institution has been upgraded to degree level and two more facilities for ECD education and B.Ed have been added to it. The number of students has risen from 175 when I took over, to 550 now, number of staff has gone up to 35 from 15 in 2004. The worth of assets now stands at more than Rs.60/ million and in 2004 it was a little over ten million.


 Community ownership of the school has been strengthened to prevent its take over by vested interests as was attempted in a similarly placed facility nearby which was built with donor money and community support but was later on put up for sale by the trustees, posing to be owners, on the ground that it was not sustainable and had also failed to impart quality service.


 The fact that Pamir School has thrived over the years and has produced brilliant students found eligible for Fulbright scholarship and job in MNCs, and 50 of them still studying in leading foreign and national universities like LUMS and GIK speaks for its quality. As compared to this other models of participatory development are being kept in the oxygen tents of donors praying for natural calamities to keep the projects going through fresh dose of donor money, thus making sustainability a major casualty and turning small time thieves into dacoits.


There are projects which have been abandoned after construction and land donors are using them to recover their rents and LSOs have failed to enforce community ownership and oversight bodies have absolved themselves of any responsibility leaving the common men to fend for themselves. Some people say these are petty issues as long as donor money is coming in. There is a truism that one should take care of small things, big things will take care of themselves. Any way importance of an issue lies in the eyes of a beholder. For a millionaire few thousand rupees may mean nothing but for a poor one kilo of wheat flour can mean a life saved. Demand for honesty, punishment of corrupt, public empowerment and sustainable development can not be less important than few jobs for the blue eyed and easy money for activist partners with kickbacks. It is our moral responsibility to judiciously utilize the money given to us by the tax payers and philanthropists around the world.

It is unfair to target a community school simply because it's principal is not liked by some people. It is not important who says it as long as what is being said is correct. Pamir school is not just a school. It is a movement committed to bring about positive changes in every walk of life through an integrated approach. We are working for gender empowerment, promotion of culture, human rights and sustainable development. We organized a seminar on quality education. During this seminar there was consensus that lack of commitment and involvement of teachers in NGO business for easy money were largely responsible for cheating in exams and poor quality of education. This is an area where we are doing advocacy despite facing the wrath and character assassination from the mafia.


 We deserve understanding, if not support, in this noble task. We believe that in the emerging knowledge society Chitralis stand to lose if they fail to improve their education system. We do not oppose individuals except those who symbolize the negative change and have developed vested interest in its perpetuation which they are doing by forging unholy alliances in the political domain. In the participatory development sector this alliance exists between the so called professionals of NGOs and activist partners at the grass roots level, who are the net beneficiaries of the filter down theory of development at the cost of the poor.

When the new world order put the NGOs in the driving seat for social mobilization it presumed accountability, meritocracy and transparency which have now become major casualties in the hands of the very NGOs who were expected to promote these values. It was time we reversed the present trends and ask for funds when we have the capacity to spend them sustainability and for public welfare and not to enrich the already rich or to promote corrupt practices.


My only difference with my friends is that they want funds for the sake of spending, which creates parasites, while I want them for sustainable development, which may help to create self respecting individuals and communities. If some of my friends still insist that all is well in NGO sector I invite them to join me to call for impartial NAB or Anti -corruption investigation to find out the truth. NAB law calls for investigation into the life style of every one whose income does not justify his life style. Unfortunately this law has been used for political victimization so far and not to catch the corrupt. I am sure scores would be behind bars, more than a dozen from Garam Chashma alone  --Islamuddin, Garam Chashma  28 Dec 2010



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