Foreign-funded Non-Government Organizations of Bangladesh have gained noteworthy success in improving the overall governance situation compared to that reflected in 2007, however there remains a considerable scope for the advancement in strengthening good governance. The remarkable development was identified in a Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) research study which assessed existing governance situation of the NGOs of Bangladesh funded by foreign donations. The study further recommended for effective application of accountability mechanisms existent to ensure transparency and integrity within NGOs and their accountability to the funding agencies and regulatory authorities.
With significant progress in the realms of openness of information, internal control, and accountability towards regulatory authorities of the government and funding agencies, adoption of necessary policies and guidelines, and development of systems for internal control and accountability, the study titled `NGOs of Bangladesh Funded by Foreign Donations: Governance Challenges and Way Forward’ also observed that the foreign donation receiving NGO sector, however, still suffers from various governance challenges, pointed out as key impediments in the study towards good governance i.e. limitations of relevant policies and laws, deficiencies in quality monitoring, evaluation, audit and coordination of NGO activities, unauthorized dealings by some NGOAB officials, undue influence from local powerful people and administration, formation of weak governing body etc. The study also observed that if the impediments are not addressed, there will be risk for the entire sector—the reputation of this sector may get tarnished and undue control from the concerned authorities may come up with possible impact on the flow of foreign donations.
To keep up the pace of advancement in establishing good governance in the sector, the study recommended strengthening of accountability mechanism between management and governing board, ensuring internal control and accountability, maintaining transparency and integrity in recruitment, procurement, and the process of providing salaries and benefits to the staff, etc.
To unveil the research study, TIB organized a Press Conference at its Dhaka office on 2 August 2018 where TIB Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Adviser Executive Management Professor Dr. Sumaiya Khair, Director-Research & Policy Mohammad Rafiqul Hassan were present. Senior Programme Manager Abu Said Md. Juel Miah and Deputy Programme Manager Nihar Ranjan Roy of Research & Policy division, TIB presented the research findings and recommendations of the report. TIB Deputy Programme Manager Md. Mostafa Kamal and Assistant Programme Manager Nazmul Huda Mina, the other members of the research team were also present at the event.
The study, mainly a qualitative research, captured a purview of the internal governance situation of the selected foreign donations receiving NGOs of Bangladesh prevailed during 2014-2016 where both primary and secondary sources of data for the study were collected from October 2016 - May 2017. The study carried out a brief comparison between the governance scenario of NGOs considering the current one with another TIB study on Governance in NGO Sector of Bangladesh which was conducted in 2007 and found substantial gaps in the internal governance of the NGOs selected under that study.
The study identified some remarkable initiatives by the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) to strengthen good governance in NGO sector particularly for those that receive foreign donations. The initiatives include, among many, the Formulation of the Foreign Donation Regulation Act, 2016; drafting the Foreign Donation Regulation Rules; inclusion of NGOs and civil society as institutions under the National Integrity Strategy, 2012. However, the study found number of gaps and ambiguity in Foreign Donation Regulation Act, 2016 like Article 6 of the act states about the timeframe for approving emergency support projects; however, there is no timeframe set in the law that defines how long should it take to provide an approval to any development project. Such clause is likely to create delay in project approval process. Besides, discriminatory clauses were identified in the Act for the NGOs operating in the CHTs which is prone to create more delay in project approval process. Moreover, there is no institutional and legal arrangement in place to track and evaluate NGOs’ expected role and progress of their promises to act as an institution mentioned in the National Integrity Strategy 2012.
According to the study, some NGOs have allegations against the funding agencies, officials of NGOAB and locally influential people on influencing their recruitment process that they cannot avoid by any means. Almost all local and national NGOs alleged that local authorities collect money from NGOs as subscriptions for the observance of different national and international days. Some NGOs also complained that they are forced to bribe local authorities for getting testimonial required for getting project approval from the NGOAB. Many of the selected NGOs informed that they are bound to bribe to NGOAB officials in every single step of getting project fund approval. The study found the experience almost common among the local and national NGOs. According to the existing law, NGOs working in the CHTs have to go through more rigorous process and get testimonials from some additional authorities; therefore, their experience of being victims of corruption is worse than the NGOs working in other areas.
Pointing the noteworthy improvement of governance situation in NGOs, Dr. Iftekharuzzaman in the press conference said, ``With regards to people and relevant organization’s expectation, the study clearly endorses the remarkable advancement since 2007. In Bangladesh, different range of corruption prevails in every sector and working in the society NGOs also get corrupted which we have found in the study. Though NGOs have been contributing remarkably in governance related areas of Bangladesh since the independence which is widely recognized nationally and globally, and reflected in the media, NGOs often face unfriendly vibe and regarded as opponents. In cases of NGOs especially those funded by foreign donations, a tendency of acting as a regulatory authority instead of monitoring or inclination of taking bribes by the officials, is often observed among the relevant government organisations including NGOAB, which should be stopped.” Dr. Zaman further stressed to ensure proper law implementation and strong accountability in this sector through effective implementation.
The study concluded with series of recommendations in strengthening good governance in the sector which has been a vibrant contributor towards the overall development of Bangladesh especially in the areas of poverty eradication and establishing rights of the poor and marginalized. The important recommendations include, among others, engaging local communities and beneficiaries in the planning and monitoring of NGO activities; strengthening internal control mechanism—strong M&E and internal audit systems and application of accountability principles against corruption and irregularities; establishment of a balanced accountability relation between the executive management and governing board; ensuring the formation of functional governing board with the members free from conflict of interest and having strong reputation and acceptance in society.
The study also recommended to ensure functional accountability of the chief executives towards governing boards, appointment of Ombudsman for minimising gaps between staff and management, grievance management, and holding the senior management accountable; taking punitive action against the corrupt NGO and NGOAB officials; amend the discriminatory and obscure clause of the Foreign Donations Regulation Act, 2016 and formulate rules; introduce online system to reduce corruption in project approval and fund release process; allocate funds to the local administrations for day observance in order to reduce undue burden on the NGOs etc.
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