Feature Article of Thursday, 28 April 2005
Columnist: Bob-Milliar, George
NGOs In Ghana-Profit Making Organisations?
The two fastest growing ?businesses? in the Ghanaian economy currently are the Non- Government Organizations (NGOs) and the ?Neo-Charismatic? Churches. They are growing neck in neck. Everyday a new church emerges under a tree, lorry pack, school buildings, community halls, hospitals among others. In fact these so-called self-proclaimed prophets, pastors ?hate? to see any empty spaces or any unoccupied buildings. They will immediately occupy it and the next thing one notice is a big banner or sign board, and these come with different inscriptions; ?All Souls for Christ Church, Ministries of Believers International and so on. These 21st century prophets (tress), pastors usually start their profession by ?preaching? in buses and other public places. And after they have extorted monies from God fearing Ghanaians and might have mastered some English and few verses from the Holy Bible, the next thing that readily comes to mind is to start a church to propagate the Gospel.
Along side these spouting churches are groups of individuals with briefcases at the Registrar General Department, their ultimate aim been to register an NGO to enable such individual partner the government in her development efforts and most importantly to assist in the fight against poverty- the number one enemy of all developing economies.
For the fresh Ghanaian graduate of toady, if he/she misses the flights (visa application unsuccessful) to London or New York, the first place to console themselves is the NGO. Why would a new graduate refuse posting to a government department or the class room but instead aims to either seek employment from these countless charitable organizations, or worst still they make fervent attempts to form an NGO of their own. The graduates of today are not so patriotic that after spending sleepless nights for years in a tertiary institution such a graduate would want to offer their services to a non-profit making organization. Patriotism is out of the question particularly now that we have been instructed by the IMF/WORLD BANK to make full cost recovery in whatever we do. The answer definitely lies in the ?profit making? or the ?good? salaries these NGOs pay their staff.
The Origins of NGOs in Ghana
The origins of NGOs in Ghana dates far back into time, whereas a result of mutual assistance the traditional Ghanaian ideal of self help under the ?nnoba? system led to the formation of church NGOs by the missionaries. The emergence and growth of NGOs in Ghana was very slow at the beginning and by 1930 only three had been officially registered. The number of NGOs increased steadily in the 1960s and 1970s and by December 1996, more than 320 NGOs; both foreign and local were operating in Ghana. Today, NGOs are springing up all over the place like beans under water. It is impossible to say how many NGOs are operating in the country because the literature on NGOs in Ghana is woefully inadequate. This handicap notwithstanding, conservative estimates put the number of NGOs both local and foreign currently operating in Ghana to be in the region of 900 to 1500.
The Roles Played by NGOs in Ghana
The roles played by NGOs in Ghana cannot be over emphasized. As part of the measures aimed at addressing the conditions of the people, and as a means to redress the imbalances between rural and urban areas in terms of development, NGOs are playing a vital role in that respect. Many NGOs are undertaking a number of activities in Agriculture, Health, Education, Science and Technology, Research and most importantly ?women development?. In some deprived rural areas, the only important and very common names known to the dwellers is either 31ST DWM, World Vision, Action Aid, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Adventist Development and Relief Agency, USAID, among others because, it was the NGO that provided them with clean drinking water, the clinic in the village center, the afforestation project, credit facilities, school building, extension services and many more.
The activities of some of the local and foreign NGOs operating in Ghana have transformed whole communities and have been beneficiary to a lot of the rural dwellers. Some NGOs by the virtue of their activities have replaced perpetual misery with some smiles to those poverty-stricken and almost forgotten groups of rural dwellers. Had it not being for that health post in the village many women may might have died through child bearing; and for the numerous boeholes in many rural areas a lot of rural dwellers would still be suffering from this preventable guinea worm disease. And thanks to some NGOs a lot of women are now ?enlightened?about their rights. In short, the advantages that are derived from the activities of some of the NGOs are too numerous for this paper to contain all.
The Defects of the NGOs
The benefits that communities are deriving from NGOs cannot be said to be a general phenomenon regarding all NGOs operating in the country. Some NGOs have lost focus on their main objectives and the original idea of the traditional Ghanaian ?nnoboa?system, been the desire to help. Some NGOs focus on making (capital) money out of the Ghanaian poor. They are been turn into money making organizations. Profit making been their main objective. Besides, the profit making NGOs, the other prominent category of NGOs emerging are the ?political? NGOs. These ?political? NGOs are either directly or indirectly linked to some political parties in Ghana. Equally important is the duplication of work as seen in the activities of some NGOs. Usually there are about ten or more NGOs within the same geographical area all offering the same services at the expense of other areas that equally require attention. About 60 per cent of the NGOs based in Accra are engaged in Aids awareness creation. Wouldn?t it be appropriate for some of these NGOs to focus on other poverty related issues?
The profit making NGOs in Ghana are a lot. NGOs by definition are ?non-profit- making organizations?. In that regard NGOs offer their services for humanity reasons and as such are suppose to be ?free? to assist some group of people to improve upon their living conditions. Most NGOs are not within the tax net of the central government (if at all they pay tax it may on some commodities) and in fact governments all over the world offer assistance in whichever way they can. And in the advanced economies they are called Charities. There the rich and famous either set their own or contribute a lot of funds and other resources for these charities to carry out their activities mostly in our part of the world. So just imagine for once that a rich man or woman siting somewhere in London contributing money to Plan International to enable it construct classrooms in Ghana, and then Plan Ghana uses the funds for something different. This is exactly what the ?profit making? NGOs do in Ghana. With the typical ?profit making? NGO in Ghana, the founder of such an NGO is the executive director and president as well. The composition of such an NGO takes the form of bogus board members drawn from family members or in some cases church members. It therefore not surprising to find the father, mother, brother, sister, auntie or church pastors constituting the Board Members. With such a bogus board, it is obvious that decision making rest with the executive director. Such an NGO is situated in the executive director?s home and with a cousin or brother as an administrative assistant. It?s therefore set to do ?business?. NGOs of such nature usually come out of the darkness to submit proposals to the donor community for sponsorship. To make such proposals merit sponsorship, a programme is design to address poverty.
The worse offenders of this group of ?profit making? NGOs are those who are into micro-credit programmes. Micro-finance initiatives are helping in poverty alleviation. There is access to credit to start smart small business when the credit is well managed. However, in Ghana operators of such credit scheme usually go to the innocent Makola women or fishmongers and put these innocent but hardworking women into groups under various titles and loans given out term revolving fund at very high interest rates. For instance, each individual is given about 300,000 cedis and the weekly or monthly payment eventually comes to 400,000 cedis. The NGO might have made 100 per cent profit from these innocent poor women who need credits to make their living conditions better. When women find themselves in such situations and complain the project officer or executive director answer is usually that the funds came from a local bank. But the truth is that these are funds either given by donors or the Ghana Aids Commission with no interest whatsoever. What kind of NGO is this?
The second groups of these charitable organizations are the ?political?NGOs. These are NGOs, which are directly or indirectly linked to some political parties in the country. Some have ministers of state as their founders (but fronted by relatives) and they lobby development agencies for funding to alleviate poverty in their constituencies. They offer their assistance to party supporters so that when the Election Day comes they will be assured of their votes. But the danger with these political NGOs is that their development programmes are not sustainable. At least the 31st December Women Movement (DWM) can attest to this fact as there has been complain from the Movement. The Mother and Child Community Development Foundation, is equally making great strides in the fight against poverty, women?s rights, children development among others. Just like it predecessor (DWM), the commissioning of markets, clinics, schools, toilets (KVIPs) and gari processing plants are proceeding smoothly. The day of reckoning will surely come.
What can be done to weed out these profits making NGOs out of the system? Of course not much can be done because most of these ?profit making? NGOs have very strong political connections in government. This aspect of the ?profit making? is well known but little is been done to curb it.
A regulatory body is needed to monitor the activities of all NGOs both local and foreign operating in the country. Such a regulatory body should be well staffed to enable it to be very effective in over seeing the activities of the NGOs through out the length and breath of the country. Legislation should be passed to make it mandatory for all NGOs operating in country to register with this regulatory body.
Secondly, there must be greater transparency in the activities of NGOs. Programmes should be effectively implemented and good accounts rendered to the sponsoring organization. It has become a common practice among ministries to assist NGOs in their programmes, but as long as their 30 per cent share (kickbacks from whatever funds are given out) is assured them, they turn a blind eye to NGOs.With the freedom to manage the programme, the project director also packets 40 per cent of the funds. The remaining 30 per cent is what is supposed to be used to implement the project. This wicked collaboration between the ministries and some of the NGOs should cease in order for the poor to derive the maximum benefits from projects implemented.
Again there should be an annual auditing of the accounts of all NGOs operating in Ghana. Because most NGOs receive funds in the good name of the HIPC Ghanaian people. It?s therefore appropriate for NGOs to submit their accounts to the Auditor General office for proper auditing.
A regulatory body and transparency in the activities of NGOs might help get these ?businessmen? and ?women? out of work for good. The programmes of NGOs should be streamline, monitored and evaluated by the government regulatory body. Auditing of NGOs accounts should be a must.
Finally the original idea of the desire to help should be the main focus of all NGOs. The fresh Ghanaian graduate of today needs a re-orientation of the mindset. There are a lot places where they can practice the policy of full cost recovery and not on the NGOs. NGOs are playing a very vital role in the Ghanaian economy and they must be encouraged.
BY: GEORGE BOB-MILLIAR PREFAB FLAT 8
TEMA Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.