The government cannot account for 65% of foreign funding for nongovernmental organisations in the country, including foreign NGOs and madrassas, largely owing to the lack of a legislative and regulatory structure to govern such organisations, said Economic Affairs Secretary Salim Sethi.
The revelation was made by Sethi at a meeting of the Senate Committee on Human Rights, which is investigating foreign funding of NGOs, particularly international NGOs (INGOs). He described it as a “constant unchecked flow of foreign funding” which was taking place without the consent of the government.
“This prompts us, though late, to regulate these aid groups,” said Sethi. “Only 35% of the donations that go into aid groups are in our knowledge. We have objections [about the fact that] over 65% of the funds go off the record to INGOs/NGOs [operating in Pakistan].”
The newly proposed legislation, being introduced to rein in INGOs/NGOs, will choke foreign funding to madressas as well, he said. The proposed laws will enable the federal government to monitor their accounts, operations and visa-related issues. Currently, only 19 INGOs are registered under the new policy, which will move the governance of aid organisations from the finance ministry to the interior ministry.
Sethi claimed that the government had included input from all stakeholders in drafting the legislation, which is set to be presented by the interior ministry to the federal cabinet for approval. The new law will be called the Foreign Contributions Act 2015.
Law Secretary Raza Khan, a former judge of the Peshawar High Court, said that even foreign funding of madrassas will come under government scrutiny of this law, a key provision of the National Action Plan against terrorism. “Madrassas receiving foreign aid will have to get themselves registered under the proposed laws,” said Khan.
Of all the INGOs operating in Pakistan, 27 are currently working under interim registration arrangements with the government, 67 have initiated the new registration process, and the applications for a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) of nine INGOs were rejected.
Three senators then asked the government why banned NGOs were allowed to continue functioning. “Why was the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba operating in Awaran [after the earthquake],” asked Senator Nisar Muhammad Khan of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz.
Senator Nasreen Jalil of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, who also chairs the Senate Human Rights Committee, said the banned Jamaatud Dawa also continued to operate in the country.
“It is strange how banned organisations successfully got themselves registered with different names with the same chief organisers,” said Senator Farahatullah Babar of the Pakistan Peoples Party.
The bureaucrats present at the meeting did not directly respond to those questions from the senators and instead continued to describe what the new legislation would do. “The new laws will also regulate the visa process and the nature of operations of aid groups and madressas receiving foreign funding,” said Sethi.
The proposed law, modelled after similar laws in India, will likely be presented to the Senate Human Rights Committee, said one member of the committee formed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to draft the legislation.
“All NGOs shall have to declare any contribution they receive from foreign sources. Misrepresentation shall be punishable by imprisonment for one year or with fine,” he told The Express Tribune earlier this week.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2015.