Jamaica Gleaner

Con­cern or mis­chief?

Par­lai­men­tary over­sight of NGOs

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SOME­BODY NEEDS to ex­plain to the peo­ple of Ja­maica who or what is be­hind the cur­rent cam­paign to seem­ingly ha­rass the non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs).

Where is the im­pe­tus com­ing from and why? Are there ex­ter­nal in­flu­ences and pres­sures at work, and what are the mo­tives of those politi­cians at the fore­front of this cu­ri­ous cam­paign?

Only two weeks ago, yet another ad­ver­tise­ment ap­peared in our news­pa­pers i nvit­ing re­sponses to the pro­posal to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion for NGOs to dis­close their sources of fund­ing. Be­fore t hat, some mem­bers of Par­lia­ment have been posit­ing views and con­cerns about the na­ture and sta­tus of the coun­try’s NGOs. It is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear to many of us in the NGO com­mu­nity that there is a de­lib­er­ate and cal­cu­lated at­tempt to cor­ral and place a choke-hold on us.

The Par­lia­men­tary cam­paign is es­pe­cially puz­zling given the frag­ile and un­so­phis­ti­cated na­ture of Ja­maica’s NGOs.

His­tor­i­cally, con­cerned men and women who sim­ply want to help their fel­low hu­man be­ings started the ma­jor­ity of NGOs. Many of them re­main un­sung he­roes and hero­ines – pa­tri­ots who con­trib­uted and sac­ri­ficed with lit­tle or no fi­nan­cial gain.

Some of those NGOs be­gan on peo­ple’s ve­ran­das, or in the case of Youth Op­por­tu­ni­ties Un­lim­ited, in a ‘2x4’ room pro­vided in kind by the Ja­maica Fed­er­a­tion of Women lo­cated at the cor­ner of Arnold and Camp Road in Cen­tral Kingston.

The legacy of the Ja­maican NGO com­mu­nity is as im­por­tant as it is in­spir­ing. I be­came a vol­un­tary mem­ber of the sec­tor more than 30 years ago, and was im­me­di­ately drawn to the self­less na­ture of the stal­warts I had the plea­sure of work­ing with. One such in­di­vid­ual was Sheila Ni­chol­son, a vet­eran so­cial worker who ded­i­cated her life to the poor and un­der-served com- mu­ni­ties through the work of the age-old NGO, VOUCH (Vol­un­tary Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Up­lift­ment of Chil­dren).

The story of VOUCH and its con­tri­bu­tion to the chil­dren of Ja­maica is largely rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the cul­ture and con­tri­bu­tion of NGOs gen­er­ally. The VOUCH Creche, founded more than 60 years ago, has served thou­sands of chil­dren and fam­i­lies, op­er­at­ing dur­ing the years I was a part of the en­tity, by an underpaid and over­worked staff.

To­day, the or­gan­i­sa­tion con­tin­ues to serve the Fletcher’s Land com­mu­nity and be­yond, and is still in need of sub­stan­tial re­sources.

The con­tri­bu­tion of pioneers like Elsie Sayle, who ded­i­cated her life to build­ing the NGO sec­tor through the Coun­cil of Vol­un­tary So­cial Ser­vices (CVSS), can­not be over­stated. In­di­vid­u­als like Claudette Pi­ous of Chil­dren First, who be­gan her work with a hand­ful of street boys to be­com­ing a char­ity serv­ing hun­dreds of chil­dren and youth, is inar­guably one of Ja­maica’s hero­ines. Like most NGOs, Chil­dren First is also in need of fi­nan­cial sup­port.

What the coun­try’s NGOs des­per­ately need is fi­nan­cial and in­sti­tu­tional strength­en­ing, and not the kind of un­nec­es­sary scru­tiny that per­sons, un­in­formed and un­fa­mil­iar with the sec­tor, seem de­ter­mined to pur­sue.

VUL­NER­A­BLE STAGE

The re­al­ity is that the Ja­maican NGO com­mu­nity to­day is per­haps at the weak­est and most vul­ner­a­ble stage ever. Over the past few years, sev­eral chil­dren’s or­gan­i­sa­tions have had to close their doors for lack of fund­ing.

One such or­gan­i­sa­tion was started by a young man from an in­ner-city com­mu­nity who was inspired to help chil­dren in need from he was a school­boy. His NGO be­came one of the largest and most ef­fec­tive en­ti­ties serv- ing parts of the West Kingston com­mu­nity. It is now closed due to se­vere fi­nan­cial con­straints.

The irony of the NGO com­mu­nity is that while most of the or­gan­i­sa­tions have suf­fered from a pro­tracted short­age of op­er­a­tional funds, the sec­tor has con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to na­tional life and to the coun­try’s GDP. Were it not for the NGOs work­ing in some of the tough­est and most volatile com­mu­ni­ties, Ja­maica may easily have gone up in smoke a long time ago.

One of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the sec­tor is its re­luc­tance to broad­cast its value to the so­ci­ety, fo­cus­ing in­stead on the per­sis­tent de­mands of poverty and the as­so­ci­ated ex­i­gen­cies. If the Gov­ern­ment was forced to take on the breadth and scope of the work pro­vided by NGOs, the sys­tem would un­doubt­edly col­lapse.

In­ter­est­ingly, the Gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to en­joy a win-win re­la­tion­ship in which NGOs carry out a large part of the so­cial man­date of the coun­try with­out be­ing paid from the public purse, in ad­di­tion to en­sur­ing that NGOs re­main tax com­pli­ant.

As the NGO com­mu­nity loses more and more of its mem­bers, our par­lia­men­tar­i­ans must be asked the ques­tions, “Who are the re­main­ing NGOs that you are seek­ing to stymie, and are churches a part of the NGO com­mu­nity?” If churches are con­sid­ered NGOs, will they be asked to dis­close their sources of fund­ing, and how ex­actly would that be achieved?

AC­COUNT­ABIL­ITY

If our par­lia­men­tar­i­ans have dis­cov­ered a newly found ap­pre­ci­a­tion for ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency, it seems odd that the cam­paign would start with the weak­est and least­of­fen­sive sec­tor of na­tional life.

It also ap­pears odd, not to men­tion hyp­o­crit­i­cal, that the very politi­cians elected and ac­count­able to the peo­ple and op­posed to any dis­clo­sure of their fi­nan­cial back­ers, would be the ones call­ing for NGOs to do what they have re­fused to do for the long­est time.

Any call for dis­clo­sure must be a na­tional ef­fort in­volv­ing all ar­eas of public, and in some cases, pri­vate life, with­out bias or ill will. To sin­gle out a par­tic­u­lar sec­tor for scru­tiny, par­tic­u­larly the char­i­ta­ble, not-for­profit com­mu­nity, ap­pears to be highly sub­jec­tive and sus­pi­cious at best.

Per­haps the first dis­clo­sure needed is to as­cer­tain ex­actly what the real mo­tive is be­hind this cam­paign.

Betty Ann Blaine is the founder of Hear The Chil­dren’s Cry and Youth Op­por­tu­ni­ties Un­lim­ited. She is also di­rec­tor of the Holis­tic Child De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme at Caribbean Grad­u­ate School of The­ol­ogy.

 ?? GLADSTONE TAY­LOR/PHO­TOG­RA­PHER ?? Claudette Pi­ous of the non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion, Chil­dren First, raps with par­tic­i­pants in the re­cent Bashy Bus Crew Sum­mer Camp Pro­gramme held at the Kingston Tech­ni­cal High School in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Kingston Cen­tral Po­lice Di­vi­sion.
GLADSTONE TAY­LOR/PHO­TOG­RA­PHER Claudette Pi­ous of the non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion, Chil­dren First, raps with par­tic­i­pants in the re­cent Bashy Bus Crew Sum­mer Camp Pro­gramme held at the Kingston Tech­ni­cal High School in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Kingston Cen­tral Po­lice Di­vi­sion.
 ??  ?? Betty Ann
Blaine
GUEST COLUM­NIST
Betty Ann Blaine GUEST COLUM­NIST

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