The idea of taxing humanitarian organisations that offer support to vulnerable people in generating mixed reactions among many friends and well-wishers of compassion. To a majority, it is unfair.
This is what the government in Islamabad, Pakistan has decided to do. It has decided to levy a charge on all aid organisations that are rendering humanitarian assistance to its vulnerable citizens.
The aim is to insert a deterrent for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that spend the lion share of money on operational and administrative costs but only a paltry amount on the gist of their strategic objectives – bringing solace to people that lack basic services.
Yet this is the thing that vulnerable people actually need. As usual, any government will always deny that such a move aims at stifling NGOs. And insists that the law is to ensure there is a check on wastage of resources. In so doing, makes sure that the money is provided to benefit the people that are in need.
Government states that if aid agencies work within their requirements, then there should be no hullabaloo. And that instead, NGOs will have more money at their disposal to spend on actual humanitarian programmes, in line with their development plan.
By saying that this is a move aimed at stopping misuse of funds puts the government in a strong position and it makes perfect sense.
If other governments follow the path of Pakistan, maybe we could see improvements for the betterment of vulnerable peoples’ lives. Or we might end up having NGOs withdraw altogether and take assistance to other countries that will not frustrate their development goals. And we will be sure humanitarian support is dealt a terrible blow, because aid ends. We know how NGOs get funding for activities.
Many largely depend on remittances from individuals abroad. Many more still rely on churches, governments and groups.
Citizens of well-to-do countries, upon watching and reading horrendous situations in which people live in, are compelled to donate their hard-earned dollars towards helping these needy people get access to basic needs.
Such groups might terminate commitments to funding very noble activities that NGOs administer. Such is the dilemma that we brace ourselves to face.
The Pakistan law raises a few eyebrows already. Humanitarian actors think that their scope of work fit in very well within national policy framework. They insist that there should be no reason for imposing such a law. And so are genuinely scared that this kind of regulation forces aid agencies to end their commitment to assisting the most vulnerable of people in their country.
Many more stakeholders will soon jump among the debate. They too, see this as part of a crackdown on Civil Society Organisations. Putting NGOs on check is a good idea, but must be implemented carefully.
It could be interpreted to the detriment of aid recipients. Donors are happy to see their money reach the last beneficiary. But they should also be concerned if a huge chunk of their money ends up as administrative costs.
To arrive at a favourable solution, aid agencies might have to heed this call.
One such call might be for governments to talk aid agencies into adopting an arrangement where NGOs submit their business plans to governments for approval and monitoring.
It gives governments confidence these large amounts of money meant for poor people are not simply seeping through the weak regulatory cracks. But where there is real need. In that way, government will be happy with aid agencies conducting their business as planned.
The work of aid agencies should be seen as complimenting government policies rather than exploiting donors and needy people.