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Move to ban NGOs unwise, unprogressive

By The Standard | November 3rd 2015

The reasons for which the government sought to restrict the activities of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO's); trying to micro manage them by putting limitations on their foreign funding were not based on facts, but rather on politically induced, and even misplaced suspicion of their activities.

This came at a time the Government was at a complete loss to explain why the Al-Shabaab insurgents were having a free run on the country and making a joke of the security services. It was while hitting out blindly that NGO's came into the peripheral view of the Government and because their funding is mostly foreign without much government control, they offered an easy target for harassment.

This too, came at a time that relationships between Kenya and America had briefly soured, yet the later funds a bigger number of the NGO's operating in the country.

Through the Public Benefit Organisation (FBO) Act, Gatundu South Member of parliament Moses Kuria endeavoured to rein NGO's soon after he became the Gatundu South Member of Parliament. Among the provisions of the PBO Act was the intent to put a ceiling on the foreign funding of individual Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO's) operating in the country at 15 per cent of their overall budget.

This proposal failed to take into account the fact that not all NGO's fall under the same category. They serve different purposes, namely social, religious, interest groups and as political fronts.

The PBO Act seemed to target the latter group, having expressed fear that some of the Non-Governmental Organizations were being secretly used to fund political groups engaged in civic education and governance. The veracity of this claim has never been established even after some of the NGO operating as money lenders were shut down and their accounts frozen.

Since the advent of NGO's in the country, they have played a pivotal role in bettering the lives of many Kenyans in rural areas where the government has never been felt, thus ably filling the void.

Some of the noble projects that NGO's have sponsored, and in which the government had not invested anything other than formulate policies include the free provision of Anti-Retro Virals (ARV's) to victims of HIV infections, the campaign to eliminate jiggers, building of dykes on some rivers in Western Kenya, giving bursaries to orphans and the poor as well as fighting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

They have also organized groups, especially women and community, and given them money for economic activities that give returns. The United Nations recommends that up to 20 per cent of an NGO's budget be used for overhead costs which cater for rentals, salaries, logistics and office procurement. How then did the government expect NGO's would raise 85 per cent for programmes if it capped foreign funding at only 15 per cent?

But while Non-Governmental Organizations must observe rules of fair play, the Government has nothing to fear from them; they only seek to improve the lives of the common people who more often than not have no contact with officialdom.

Yearly, NGO's get a funding of Sh300 billion which is spent on community development. The Government ought to appreciate that Non-Governmental Organizations employ more than 200,000 Kenyans. Cuts in funding would automatically result in job cuts. This will defeat the Government's pledge to create one million jobs annually.

Rather than deregister NGO's on flimsy grounds, the government ought to find better ways of working with them for the good of Kenyans. Otherwise, it is easy to conclude that the Government is waging a war on innocent agents of development on the basis of suspicion and bad-mouthing.

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