Concern at ministerial proposal to dissolve 2,000 NGOs

Afghan planning minister Dr Ramazan Bashardoost resigned on Monday, following rejection by the government of his proposal that 2,000 aid agencies should be wound up. Bashardoost had called on central government last week to close down 80 percent of all national and international aid agencies, labelling them ineffective and corrupt.

According to the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), an umbrella group representing over 90 national and international aid agencies in Afghanistan, NGOs were shocked that talk of decimating the country's fledgling NGO movement could seriously undermine the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

“The [humanitarian] work will be interfered with, which will result in the poor suffering. There will be chaos if there is liquidation of NGOs.” Mohammad Hashim Mayar, a programme coordinator with ACBAR, told IRIN.

There are over 1,500 national and more than 300 international NGOs registered with the Ministry of Planning. ACBAR concedes that many such groups are not real NGOs. “We think there are many organisations doing good work, but they are not NGOs, they should be registered as private companies,” Mayar added.

NGOS have long been calling on the government for regulation and registration, which would help sort out the real not-for-profit organisations from the many shoddy groups trying to capitalise on the aid coming into the country in the post-Taliban era.

“Serious NGOs in Afghanistan have been calling for an updated NGO law and regulations for years.” Paul Barker, Country Director of CARE International, told IRIN. “While his [Bashardoost’s] intent may be noble in his decree to dissolve so many NGOs, the Minister of Planning’s techniques were reckless and I think could have very well threatened the trust and confidence of the international community.”

This is the third time in the last two years that Kabul has seriously questioned the role of NGOs in national reconstruction. According to officials at the planning ministry, draft regulatory legislation has been prepared and is awaiting presidential review, as well as scruting from NGOs. “The legislation is still in review and it will take some time before it is can ratified,” an official of the ministry, who declined to be named, told IRIN.

There is a lot of political pressure on the fledgling government of President Hamid Karzai to be seen to be delivering reconstruction to the people. Clamping down on bogus NGOs could be part of this process, diplomats in Kabul told IRIN.

Many ordinary Afghans believe that the reconstruction resources they had heard were available - more than US $2 billion in aid over the past two years - have not had much impact on the ground. And NGOs are increasingly being blamed as implementing partners that often fail to deliver.

But questioning the overall role of NGOs is also problematic, observers say. Aid workers believe they rely for their security on the trust and cooperation of the communities where they work. "If the people get messages from government that NGOs are not doing a good job, then our most important source of security may be undermined," an aid worker who declined to be named, told IRIN.