NGO Mafia in Pakistan

By Khadim Durrani Quettawaal

Actually a few weeks ago I had written about NGO mafia and the way they operate in Pakistan, making millions of rupees at the expense of poor communities. Unfortunately due to lack of education and information the poor communities are unable to defend their interests. The article is quite long and can be boring for some of you but many people I have spoken to find themselves in agreement with many points raised therein. In the best interest of our communities and to prevent a few thugs from actively abusing public funds and resources, we must educate our communities by discussing this issue in each and every forum – public and private. The article you are going to read simply seeks to achieve this very objective i.e, raising awareness.

NGO Mafia and their vacuous slogans


The purpose of this article on one hand is to debunk the altruism of NGO-mafia which is busy deceiving the poor communities of Pakistan and, on the other hand, to reach out to the international/national donors and the general public who are directly or indirectly involved in development politics and policy design. It’s only through the involvement of the primary and genuine stakeholders, in the various public fora, that we will be able to galvanize the debate concerning widespread corruption in these NGOs, their role, sources of funding, their accountability and above all the cardinal question of representativity: ‘who they represent?’. In order to empower the dispossessed and eradicate poverty, disempowerment of various active mafias, including NGO one, is needed – something that should be sought by launching anti-corruption campaigns across the country. This article is a small contribution towards achieving that goal!

But before you read any further let me make it very clear that only mafia NGOs are under the spotlight here and not those good but rare NGOs which put their heart and soul into community projects; their actions are commendable! In writing up these few pages I have found it difficult, emotionally, to keep myself detached from the general state of corruption that prevails in Pakistan, hence one will notice that I have touched upon other issues which, though, not directly relevant to the theme of this article, nonetheless, are the contributing factors to the larger issue of corruption that affect our society at large.

Moreover, instead of debating what NGO corruption is, I would rely on the simple definition suggested by Richard Holloway, and that is: “behaviour for personal gain or for the benefit of another person or organisation on the part of people who claim to represent an independent, not for profit, public benefit organisation”.

The General state of affairs

Hailing from Quetta and having witnessed, heard, read about and discussed with various internal & external stakeholders about the conduct of certain NGOs I feel strongly to express my concerns and disgust about these mafia-organizations.

The term mafia, as we know, originated in Italy where initially it was attributed to Sicilian secret criminal society, but now worldwide it is perceived and understood to relate to a group of people of similar interests or backgrounds who are prominent in a particular field or enterprise, and are often engaged in illegal activities. In Pakistan the examples are: ‘land-mafia’, ‘drug-mafia’, and any other secretive cabal of criminals which extorts and deprives the poor and vulnerable of what belongs to them. Sadly, the NGO-mafia is becoming another bête noir in our already torn apart society.

Generally speaking, there is a perception out there in the NGO community that they are agents of social change and challenging status quo is one of their objectives. Their ideologues on development would do everything possible to impress you with their knowledge of the political and intellectual awareness of the ideology of development but when it comes to substance then they prove to be the promoters of status quo!

Corruption is, unfortunately, so rife and banal in Pakistan that if you try to challenge or talk about the corrupt practices of any given person, the person you will be talking to will simply shrug off her/his shoulders and would say, “leave it, it’s not my problem, it’s not in our hands, everyone is involved in corruption, how can we put the faux pas right”. And the next time round when you see the same person you will hear him/her screaming, cursing and blaming everyone else for the prevailing social malaise!

Those who dare raise their voice for justice feel that they are let down by the society/system thus deterring other potential witnesses to follow suit.

It was last year when my attention was drawn to a letter (e-mail) whereby a local NGO from Balochistan province of Pakistan was exposed, allegedly, to have been involved in the mismanagement of public funds. All the major irregularities and illegal actions were discussed at great length. As a result of a bargaining a then rival colleague of chief executive got away with millions of rupees in return for chief executive’s total control over the organization; the ‘rival colleague’ got the money, quit and started his own NGO. A good example of mafia’ization of NGOs!

Somehow, I got in touch with those who were part and parcel of the concerned organization. They all confirmed that the contents of the e-mail were credible’. The claims were backed by incontrovertible documentary evidence. For some personal reasons I don’t want to discuss each and every point raised in that e-mail or name the people involved because I think it’s not fair to name and shame one person or a group of people and spare the rest of NGO-mafia.

Luckily the said e-mail added to my curiosity and I decided to find out more about NGO mafia. Consequently, the information I gleaned, from various sources, was simply disappointing! I came to realize that most of NGOs operating in Pakistan were being run not to empower the underprivileged communities but to empower the NGO families, their subservient associates and a few friends.

On one hand a devious, class-conscious comprador elite is actively thriving at the expense of the poor communities and, on the other hand, paradoxically, the same class is campaigning for the eradication of poverty through their vacuous slogans. The only impression we get of NGO-mafia is their indefatigable quest to maintain their hegemony while preaching demo-craZy.

No matter what they say, the fact is many NGOs do not operate in a transparent way; they violate the democratic norms, negating the very basic rule of democracy, i.e., ‘to govern with the consent of the governed’. Some of these holier-than-though operatives resist the call for accountability to the ‘general public, while campaigning for intergovernmental organizations to be more accountable to the public.

In Pakistan most of these myopic NGOs and their QUANGO (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization) counterparts are promoting their own entrepreneurship with the connivance, and often involvement, of donors and corrupt government officials.

Whenever their interests get threatened in one region they move the goalpost to another region of Pakistan to perpetuate sufferings of the poor.

Ironically some people attribute their so-called failures to the tribal mindset of the communities, but what they ignore is the extent to which they mislead everybody through their undemocratic and manipulative tactics, seizing on every possible opportunity to retain their control over the organisation. It’s therefore preposterous to blame the tribalism of communities for the malfeasance of NGO mafia which is actively involved in abusing public funds.

The NGO-mafia ignores the fact that the beneficiaries are the very ‘raison d’être’ of these NGOs and if they, the beneficiaries, don’t benefit from what is meant to be their resources then mafia-NGOs have got no right, whatsoever, to exist!

It’s also absurd for someone to claim or even to imply that he/she failed in such and such a project (e.g., micro-finance sector) because the borrowers, being from tribal communities, had defaulted on their commitment to repay the loans! That’s not true. If we were to accept that the defaulters got away with the loan money because of their tribal connection then how would one explain, a) moving the goalpost out of Balochistan, shifting almost all the assets as well, b) how on earth other NGOs with relatively sound reputation are still operating in Balochistan?

It’s not the tribalism of the tribes but the tribalism of the urbanised and the educated people that we should be wary of! I don’t see much of a difference between a tribal society and an undemocratic one; they are both hierarchical and have much in common. The difference being that the former category is illiterate, conservative, rural and prone to exploitation while the latter is literate, liberal (?), urbanised and represents the exploiters! At least, the tribal people follow and respect their principles and traditions.

The Unrepresented Communities

NGOs pretend that they are busy defining and defending rights of the poor and the minorities or even fighting for women-rights, but the facts and figures contradict their public policy discourse. The fact is that the genuine external stakeholders (i.e., NGO beneficiaries) haven’t got any representation and besides they are never involved in ex-ante and mid-term evaluations of projects (if carried out at all!) which purport to empower the communities.

On the contrary, the general public is openly questioning the social legitimacy, representativity, and accountability of NGOs, realizing that the so-called benevolent development paradigm of these organizations is NOT in line with public interest.

Do they really represent our uninformed/uneducated communities? With imported board members from other places will they be able to bring about a real social change in our local communities? For example, with the exception of a couple of mafia members who sit on various NGO-mafia boards safeguarding each other’s interests, how many NGOs in other provinces of Pakistan have board members from Balochistan? The reason that certain NGOs have board members from places other than their local communities is very obvious: to retain personal control over the organisation and its resources!

Generally speaking the board plays an important role in the internal governance mechanism of any organisation, including an NGO, and holds decision-making powers, thus holding the NGO responsible to the society. However the situation in some Pakistani NGOs is lamentably disappointing (see Fig. 3). The board members are often close friends, family members or NGO-mafia contacts and are subservient to the director/CEO – in many cases aptly labelled as a dummy or rubber stamped board. Even co-optation is not allowed in certain NGO-mafia: through individual’s manipulation the threatening/vocal member is replaced by another lackey. It’s certain that within such a governance structure, the management team will not be able to fulfil its mission or make use of its capabilities. Therefore, strict legal frameworks are needed to challenge the legality of certain ‘suitcase NGOs’ whereby one person controls organization’s resources and its board members.

The general public, therefore, have the legitimate right to pose questions such as who do you represent and to whom are you accountable?

Another buzzword or phrase frequently used to impress the audience is ‘grassroots’ but when it comes to measuring the impact of multi-million rupees’ projects, the result is a rather disappointing negative impact leading to an increasingly disempowered and less-informed communities without any signs of sustainable development, whether economical, social or environmental because the money is either spent elsewhere for personal development or mismanaged; a situation which one NGO critic rightly described as: ‘power to grassroots or grass without roots’?

When will this exploitation of our illiterate, downtrodden and deracinated communities end, and, the NGO-mafia and other government agencies stop abusing their resources?

Corruption and government officials

Involvement of the various government officials in corrupt practices is an undeniable fact otherwise we would not have been in this mess in the first place! It is important to note that many officials  instead of safeguarding the interests of the state of Pakistan and of its people, very often, indulge and collude with the various mafia entities to get their share of the booty. This makes the enforcement of accountability more difficult which only helps embolden the mafias to rob the national exchequer at their will.

Examples of mafia connection

It was last year (2006) when some people or someone reported abuse of funds and authority in a Quetta based NGO to the Quetta office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) branch, the officer-in-charge at the UNHCR, a foreign national, instead of initiating his investigation into the matter involving UNHCR funds, allegedly, got in touch with the chief executive of the accused NGO and asked for his further advice!!! What does this show? Corruption at the very heart of the CSO sector: be that local, national or international!

An official from UNHCR asking for advice will only be considered as another stakeholder whose own stakes are high in the mafia world of the NGOs – what a farcical approach to development! But you can’t blame these reproachable guys who happen to take their lead from the likes of Mr Paul Wolfowitz, who was recently accused of increasing his girl friend’s salary without informing the World Bank board of governors. Mr Wolfowitz is involved so much with his femme fatale’s wellbeing (1, 2) that he turns blind eye to the fatalities and carnage of the living ‘graveyard or more aptly human scrap yard’ that once was Saddam’s Iraq! Perhaps development and violence go hand in hand and Mr. Wolfowitz’s share in fueling economies of war and perpetuating violence will not be missed by future historians!

When it comes to development and ‘femme fatale’ then Mr Wolfowitz you are not the only one; rest assured your amorous paradigm is being replicated in many places around the world, Pakistan being one of them! Yours is a very good example of pro-poor development, isn’t it?

At least he was forced to resign by the conscientious and informed officials of the western countries, but who will hold our thieves to accountability?

In another example, an ex-employee (a female doctor) of the same Quetta based organization had informed UNHCR office of Quetta and other donors about the abuse of resources and other fictitious project details. It is said the chief executive immediately sought, allegedly, the help of a certain government official who then threatened the female doctor with dire consequences if she pursued any further the case or disclosed any other details of the organization to the outside world. She was reminded (blackmailed) that failing to conform to the instructions (threats) meant she risked to be reported to her present government employers regarding her second illegal job with an NGO and as a consequence she would lose her government job because a government employee was not allowed to have two jobs concurrently.

The threat worked and the ‘female doctor’ vanished from the scene. Likewise another male employee in the similar situation, among others, was forced to keep quiet.

The Corruption Triangle

Mafias anywhere in the world always have support of some corrupt government officials, without them they will never exist! The above examples show the mafia’isation of the civil society.

This bizarre mélange of corruption-triangle involving corrupt elements from within the civil society, government officials and other stakeholders is not a positive development for our socially excluded communities. The social earthquake/terrorism that is being triggered and nurtured by these elements will be of far reaching consequences.

Is there any global conscience out there to wage a war on this kind of terror?

A thief is not that poor man who steals just because he has limited options to survive but that person or group of people, who are educated, sophisticated and hold positions of authority in one form or another; the ones whose basic living needs are fulfilled but their greed has no frontiers, they are the real thieves or perhaps ‘thieves sans frontiers’! They are directly responsible for the poverty of our communities in our society as they are intrinsically corrupt. They promote corruption and bad governance and we all know that corruption leads to poverty and poverty leads to conflicts.

Isn’t this something that we are witnessing on daily basis in our poor Pakistan: murders, kidnappings, robberies, acts of suicides by poor and desperate people (not to mention suicide bombings) and other deteriorating social and law-and-order issues that affect all of us in one way or another? The corruption triangle is thus the stepping stone to all other varieties of terrorism!

Figure: 1

And then there are those who until the collapse of the Berlin Wall were telling us about the Bolshevik Revolutionaries (Red Army) waiting at Pak-Afghan border to emancipate us from our miseries. Their rhetoric of the time mainly focused on classless society and Trotskyism (internationalism or the concept of worldwide revolution as opposed to socialism in one country). At the time they addressed our marginalized and deprived communities as proletariat and their exploiters as the bourgeoisies but with the pulverisation of the Berlin Wall these ideologues saw their socialist ideals and idols getting pulverised as well. It’s really amazing to notice the number of people from the ‘left’ side of the socio-political spectrum who have joined the NGOs – instead of roubles the dollars change hands now!

The champions and the defenders of the proletariat are now promoting free market economies and their new life style shows to what extent these preachers-of-anything-for-anything have submerged in the sea of capitalism and globalisation, thriving on the funds flowing from the capitalist economies.

Ironically, what shifted was their parlance, not their personal undeclared paradigm

Interestingly enough, there are striking similarities between these socialist-cum-capitalist individuals and our unprincipled and unbridled politicians [the pseudo-elites] who change their loyalties and principles with the rise and fall of each government

Hospitality, bribery and the genuine philanthropists

People in Pakistan, without any doubt, are generally very hospitable, in particular towards foreigners – guests or otherwise! According to their means and resources they entertain them and the minimum they will do is to offer a cup of tea. So when your hosts serve you from their own personal resources, at home or in a restaurant, this is called their hospitality but the moment you attend a dinner in a four star hotel/restaurant in an official capacity representing the interests of e.g., civil society, government or corporate donors etc, then beware you are wading into the murky waters of implicit bribery and sleaze, becoming an accomplice in promoting corruption. You will become an equal partner in usurping marginalized communities’ rights, donated so generously by the benevolent citizens of the world.

These kinds of wining and dining tactics are envisaged to soften you up for further funds and for paving the path for a smoother and lenient evaluation of their projects!

Before you accept any such invitation, think of those ordinary charitable individuals in the developed and developing countries who donate, whatever they can, to help their human fellows in our part of the world where the humanitarian situation demands intervention; think of those individuals who volunteer their precious time and raise funds at the entrances of supermarkets, in the high streets of big cities or organise other fundraising functions just to help our desperate and needy communities build their lives!

Misleading the uninformed/uneducated communities

In Pakistan, the masses are predominantly illiterate and ill-informed. To them, like many other things, civil society organizations (CSOs) and what goes on in there, are terra incognito; they find it difficult to comprehend and challenge the real motives of these pseudo-savants, often wrongly labelled as an ‘epistemic community’. Since a true epistemic community would never allow itself to benefit from the needs and rights of the illiterate, poor, and vulnerable communities!

I couldn’t believe when I read a piece of draft report written by a Cambridge (UK) based consultant regarding a Quetta based NGO where it boasted, “Their recovery for micro-finance/credit loan was 99%”. Very misleading indeed! The truth is that because of mismanagement their micro-finance section has been shut down – without any accountability!

The PPAF (Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Funds) knows about the mismanagement of micro-credit funds but so far no action has been taken in this regard.

If there is no free flow of information or stakeholders haven’t got access to sufficient information regarding internal decision-making, information about finances or about other activities then the organization cannot claim it encourages community/stakeholder participation. In fact many of these one-man suitcase mafia NGOs haven’t even got a system in place to deal with complaints and redress them because by allowing such a system to become operational would mean lesser control by the mafia bosses!

In this day and age of information I was amazed to see the minimal information available on the websites of certain Pakistan based NGOs, one such organization with millions of dollars in its account had only managed to publish one leaflet (in English) and couple of annual financial reports while boasting to be a vehicle of change at the national level. Surely, the monthly cost of maintaining and updating their web pages will be less than their one day’s picnic paid for from the communities’ funds.

Internet is a very powerful tool why then is the opportunity not being availed fully to raise awareness regarding certain issues in a language that the target group can benefit from? But this may harm their interest if some NGO-mafias become more transparent and open. Displaying a few old fabricated annual accounts on-line in a foreign language will make no difference to the communities. It’s just a PR exercise to mislead the foreign donors – nothing for communities to read in their own language and not everyone has got a computer!

Members only Club

Not everyone can penetrate into the hermetic world of NGO mafia. With a few good discrete, concrete and implemented examples of corruption (embezzlement) and mismanagement, one can be become their new confrere – they always need new trustworthy members to act as a conduit for funding to their projects! Your membership will not be measured against your project performance or what impact your intervention may have or may have had on the communities but on the basis of what you have achieved and benefited personally from the miseries of others while advocating and lobbying for their rights!

Now once in, you will have your own designated niche in a chic four star hotel/restaurant, owned by a foreign magnate-cum-donor, to discuss communities’ poverty thus paying back part of donors’ money in bills (may be this is how the corporate donors operate!).

If you get bored with your relentless public and private discourse then think of organizing a retreat (another cliché used in NGO parlance) in an out-of the-country-venue to discuss your local communities’ problems, again, at the cost of millions of rupees – under the rubric of broadening your global horizon.

At least the mafia NGO’s and poor communities’ have got something in common: bankruptcy and retreat. One is financially bankrupt and the other one is morally, former retreating to their niche in the comfort of a 4/5 star hotel/restaurant or a foreign country, while wining and dining they discuss extra-mundane issues, the latter struggling to find their way out of the social abattoir to survive!

The so-called NGO beneficiaries already having been drained out by the influenza of poverty and social exclusion are in fact paying for the affluenza of the benefactors, the so-called agents of social justice living now in extravaganza with their newly found bonanza through community development propaganda!

Fig. 2: This is an overloaded sketch: the wall represents what goes behind the scenes the rest I leave to your imagination to interpret…

‘Misbehaviour of northern NGOs’

Due to stringent rules and regulations and full application of laws, the NGOs based in the western countries know that if they get involved in any corrupt practices or if the cases of criminal wrongdoings are brought against them then they will be dealt with harshly by their judicial system hence the corrupt elements in the western and developed countries will be very careful when diverting funds for their own development.

But people are well aware that it’s easier to swindle funds in an underdeveloped country where corruption is rife and laws are not implemented strictly. Their hosts – the recipient NGOs – know very well about the strictness of the western judicial system therefore they prey on their western counterparts and as soon as an opportunity is created they grab it and a two way traffic of abuse ensues – very discretely though! In fact these are the southern NGOs that are facilitating the corruption of their northern counterparts. I am not saying all the people from the northern NGOs are corrupt but they do have their own black sheep embedded in their hierarchies who directly or indirectly benefit from the corrupt practices of southern NGOs!

Language barriers

The reason I would like to discuss the language issue here is because it is the first prerequisite step towards empowerment of any individual, any community or any nation. In Pakistan it affects all of us at all levels of our day to day living.

It is very aberrant to see the majority of Pakistani CSOs record/compile their information in the English language! Can the communities benefit from the information in a foreign language, keeping in mind the majority of them cannot even read and write in Urdu or in their own native/local languages, let alone English – a foreign language! Unfortunately with our neo-slavish mindset we will always shy away from communicating in Urdu in our official correspondence as well as in our public discourse. What a shame our heads of state and governments address our illiterate communities in English!

Even seminars, conferences and workshops regarding civil society activities are conducted in English and instead of breaking down barriers, they erect and consolidate them! Ironically the grassroots for whom these events are held, find themselves excluded, sitting outside on the ‘grass’ in the lawn of the venue while daissi angraiz دیسی کالے انگریز) – a sarcastic reference to natives who behave as if they are English) are busy debating issues that affect the lives of these people.

In many developed countries specially trained bilingual teachers are employed in schools to help newly arrived foreign pupils with their education in their own language while in Pakistan it’s the other way round. Many native speakers address their audience in a language that is totally alien to them!

The other day I was informed how the chief executive of another NGO was running here and there, looking for someone who could write his organisation’s [annual] report in English. Although he and his other staff members were fully capable of writing a brilliant report in Urdu which would have benefitted everyone, but strangely enough, to some people community development is only achievable in English. Shame on this mentality of ours!

The reason, I am writing in English, is, simply to reach out to the foreign donors and readers who are directly or indirectly involved in development politics and policy design. For our domestic readers and stakeholders, an Urdu version will soon be made available as engaging them to become masters of their own affair is paramount and that is the main purpose of this article.

Absence of democracy or lack of a vision to embrace it!

It’s not a coincidence that we have so many coup d’états in our country.

In fact absence of democracy at national level reflects our individualistic approach to national and international issues whereby every one of us believes, wrongly, that: ‘I am the right person to lead this nation/political party/department/organization etc’ contradicting all democratic norms. Hence we see a mushroom of splinter parties/organizations/factions emanating from the parent one and the pattern keeps itself repeating and repeating, until we get to a stage where everyone is trying to run his/her microcosmic dictatorship. For example if we pay attention we will find out that across Pakistan the directors/CEOs of, at least, any 5 different NGOs in the past, at one point, were part of one NGO but due to one-man-rule and the ease with which one can abuse funds and resources they chose to quit their parent NGO and run their own NGO ‘businesses’. In Quetta I know the existence of at least one such cluster of NGOs which shared one common origin (not the goal!) and now … don’t ask! I really feel constrained to name them at this stage.

Only a true and inclusive democratic approach can redress this anomalistic attitude of ours and this is only achievable with personal sacrifices!

Before these mafia stakeholders teach others about good governance and social justice, about gender equality or advocate public policy change or before even criticize State’s existing mechanisms of accountability, I would advise these habitués to unlearn their bad habits, abandon their corrupt practices, become transparent and accountable, adopt parsimony and democratic values in their own ranks and files and then come and teach us about their intended goals and missions.

What others say about NGO-mafia?

And of course I am not the only one who is critical of these organisations! Just google ‘corruption in NGOs or civil society’ and read…

NGO Agenda

It is also very important for the general public to know that all NGOs are NOT neutral; some under the disguise of development seek to implement their hidden political agendas. They interfere in the domestic politics of many countries and in many parts of the world they instigate civil and political unrest and that is in addition to their gathering of information/intelligence to help shape their respective governments’ foreign policy. Some of the faith based NGOs, as part of their agenda, seek to convert people from other faiths to the religion they subscribe to. There are then those who work on behalf of the corporate donors to safeguard their commercial interests. On the other extreme our do-gooders by accumulating illegal wealth are busy compromising our national sovereignty, security and social cohesion!

Confronting the mafia

The accusations that crop up so often exposing NGO-mafia cannot be termed baseless and merely put aside. The genuine stakeholders need to be educated regarding purpose, role and the limitations of these organizations; we must stand against this laisser-faire trend and wake up to the realities of the day, otherwise the abuse of precious resources will continue unchecked and this will only exacerbate the plight of the poverty stricken communities.

Therefore the need to mobilise/involve primary stakeholders, whose voices remain unheard, is imperative in monitoring and confronting mafia NGOs. This can be achieved by:

v Launching awareness raising campaigns

v Engaging beneficiaries/stakeholders

v Engaging the Media

v Seeking to hold the mafia accountable

v Involving donors to intervene

v Setting up NGO Watchdog

  • Awareness raising campaigns

The funds cannot in themselves transform a society. It’s through campaigning for justice and against injustices that we will be able to create a JUST society for all to live peacefully side by side. We must therefore speak up against those who advance their own vested interests under the rubric of community development projects but in fact espouse different values from what they preach.

  • Engaging beneficiaries/stakeholders

The NGO beneficiaries/stakeholders must mobilize their respective communities to monitor these mafia organizations and challenge their abuse of public funds and resources that are raised in their names. The voices of the poor must not remain unheard and we must make sure that NGOs are made accountable as much to the primary stakeholders as to the donors and above all to our criminal justice system.

This will only be possible if: a) the stakeholders (internal and external) know what is going on in the organisation, that is, free and absolute access to all the information – nothing should remain hidden, and, b) the stakeholders, in particular the NGO-beneficiaries, should get themselves involved in planning, monitoring and reviewing projects and participate in other aspects of organization’s business! On their part the NGOs will also need to behave in a more transparent way and create opportunities for communities and their partners to participate in the programmes meant to be for the uplift of the poor communities.

  • Engaging the Media

The media plays a very important role in shaping up a country’s destiny. They have to take the lead in educating our people as to the role and purpose of NGOs; they must engage other institutions of learning and social organisations into a nation-wide debate. Similarly, internet can be used by individuals and organisations to raise awareness for the same purpose.

  • Accountability

The corruption issue is a very complex one and there are no simple solutions to redress it; it’s a social disease. Corruption, illiteracy and ignorance being the main root causes that corrode the very fabric of our society. Only State’s honest officials, if there are any, can stamp it out from our society. The starting point should be the judiciary and the police. Only an independent, just, conscientious, powerful and accountable judiciary can buttress the collapsing foundations of our society that have been weakened by decades’ corruption and abuse; they can only rescue us if they first rescue these important institutions from a total collapse. An all out ‘jihad’ against corruption is the only way forward to purge our society of corrupt elements.

Corruption is an illegal act, therefore when an NGO or its management is engaged in corrupt practices, diverting funds on spurious grounds to their own entrepreneurship then it ought to be accountable to national criminal justice system and to the communities it purports to serve.

  • Involving donors to intervene

The national/international donors and the government agencies must therefore listen and respond to the growing concerns of the general public and NGO beneficiaries. They must fulfil their legal and moral obligations in making these organizations more accountable and transparent.

It is also equally important for the donors to liaise independently with the community representatives and other internal and external informants to prevent the ingurgitation of the meagre community resources by the mafia. The communities should be the direct clienteles of the donors, not the NGO-mafia – unless the donors have got other agenda to implement.


Many mafia-NGOs maintain a dodgy dossier to mislead their donors and deceive their beneficiaries. Often these NGOs manage to fabricate a positive evaluation material, hiding their shortcomings and failures so that they could continue having unhindered access to funds from the donors and at the same time continue emptying the communities’ coffers to their own advantage.

Figure: 3

In order to confront the NGO-mafia, the general public will need to run a member based NGO, funded by its members and national donors so that its independence is not compromised. Only the members should have the right to elect, for a fixed period of time, the governing and executive bodies of the organisation. This would make everyone involved in the watchdog organisation more accountable and transparent and less prone to falling into the trap of despotism. Thus, by leading by example and by acting as a pressure group we can halt the process of mafia’I’zation of the modern nascent civil society. This [watchdog NGO] will also help bring the debate into the public domain, allowing stakeholders to have a free access to the information which will further enhance their understanding of certain issues that affect their lives, thus allowing them to participate more proactively in their own affairs in an informed manner.

The irony is that, at present, even the members of the governing and executive bodies are not empowered and many of them are mere stooges of CEOs/Directors, serving them for few perks and favours or they are there for symbolic reasons to give the false impression about the democratic and representative nature of the organisation. A few of them are just there for the sake of being a board member. Examples in Pakistan: numerous!

Through accountability and transparency institutions can be democratized and strengthened and democratic culture developed. But without questioning the unethical behaviour of certain mafia NGOs, without exposing cases of corruption and wrongdoing in these organisations, the quality and integrity of civil society will be seriously compromised. By allowing the stakeholders to monitor an organization’s affair will only help build its credibility and legitimacy.


So far the civil society has failed terribly to deliver what it has been claiming in its rhetoric. Lack of transparency and accountability only demonstrate the vacuousness of certain mafia-NGOs, debunking their sloganeering campaign of community development. They are the ones who are truly thriving in a kleptocratic milieu abusing and wasting millions of rupees!

The present state of affairs in the civil society demands that we conduct a reconnaissance social audit study, involving all the stakeholders. It’s only through remapping the contours of the civil society, equipping ourselves with a high moral compass, and by studying a well representative cross-section of our social strata, that we will be able to unfold the cracking fault lines within the civil society. We will then find out that the various so-called actors for social change are drifting away from their drummed up, epoch-making goal of social justice.

We will also realize that the resources and energy that they have utilized, so far, to cause tidal waves of macro-magnitude have hardly produced any ripples of micro importance. Sadly, the protectors of the corruption triangle did not even spare the victims of October 2005 earthquake! Billions of dollars were raised and millions were siphoned off!

The malpractices which are so manifestly evident in many Pakistani NGOs have already begun to erode public support and confidence in these organizations, exposing their claims about human rights, good governance or promotion of democracy etc. – like charity, accountability also begins at home!

Slogans such as voluntarism, charity and altruism sound good but in practice, only few people are willing to adopt these values: For example, an organization whose basic running costs far exceed the costs of their projects or where the highest paid person earns 20 times more than the lowest paid staff member is very peculiar of these NGO-mafias which claim to promote an equitable and just society.

Those NGO proponents who advocate preference of NGO performance over NGO accountability should know that in countries like Pakistan it’s corruption that rules which in turn affects performance of any individual, organization, state or otherwise, hence it will be very naïve to expect better performance without demanding, and, implementing effective accountability. Therefore a form of control by government should not be interpreted as a blow to a free society but in fact harnessing these corrupt elements in the civil society will only strengthen the free society and help reduce the poverty. This will also make the uncivil elements more civilised!

I can fully appreciate the fact that at present thousands of temporary jobs and badly needed extra hard cash to the country’s fragile economy are the only spin off that we can get from the civil society sector but that doesn’t mean we condone what is not right within this so-called ‘third sector’. The huge amount of money thus involved if utilised effectively and parsimoniously, can immensely transform our marginalised communities. If we did not act now then we should know that the scavengers are on the loose and they know how to translate pro-poor sustainable development concepts into sustainable family businesses. I therefore urge all those past and present employees/volunteers of the NGOs to play their role and prevent those individuals embedded in the NGO hierarchies from exploiting the communities’ resources any further.

For monitoring and evaluation purposes independent interpreters/translators should be used by foreign donors to liaise between the communities, NGOs and the donors in order to gauge the impact of the project and prevent the organization that is being evaluated from wrongly influencing the outcome or misleading the members of the fact finding mission

Let’s not forget that the NGO beneficiaries are the needy people, they would think twice before turning down offers of the so-called development programmes and other services even if they were to be of substandard.

Since NGOs operate in the public domain therefore their credibility and integrity is of utmost importance to the affected communities they serve. What else would you imagine if you see in an organization the absence of an independent board, absence of transparent mechanisms of accounting, lack of internal appointment procedures and a multitude of other illegal and undemocratic measures that are taken by these self-appointed do-gooders? And when you challenge their illegal and undemocratic practices then they retort by saying, ‘we don’t need your certification’!!!

Whose certification do they need then? PCP‘s (Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy’s)? If PCP or its likes were that efficient and honest then we would not have witnessed the advent of the prolific NGO mafia across the country!


The civil society organizations (CSOs) were/are supposed to help facilitate the development of the marginalized and underprivileged communities and, alleviate their sufferings by empowering them through the creation of an ‘enabling environment’ but instead the NGO-mafia, in cahoots with their mafia protectors/impuissant board, have only been promoting corruption and bad governance through their hyped up pseudo-development programmes.

The donors, on their part, either due to the nature of their policy/agenda or because of being complacent are equally responsible for the existence of such organisations.

Only an in depth financial and social audits will tell us what impact their projects had on our communities. But the one million dollar question is who is going to conduct this study? Who is going to watch the watchdog? Until we find one, the mafia is on loose to perpetrate daylight robberies!

The perception in the NGO Mafia that they are above the law and are not accountable to anyone needs to be challenged. Each one of us including media should play our respective role. Our inaction, at this crucial juncture, will only impede social progress in lieu of expediting it. This will only hurt the poor of the poor who are living at the very fringes of hopelessness.

The use of Urdu language in disseminating information should be encouraged at all levels.

Ironically the NGO-mafia itself is under scrutiny; the stage is now set for the anticlimax. It’s time to rehearse the requiem for them.
Note: Witnesses play a vital role in society by helping to solve crimes and stop injustices from taking place. There would be no effective criminal justice system if victims & witnesses do not speak loud enough to be heard by those who could be very helpful in prosecuting the criminals.

Below is a news item appeared in Jang London’s Urdu online edition of  January 31, 2010. It says a woman who as the Chief Executive of two charities  for  children, stole fraudulently £ 80,000 pounds; she was sent to prison for 3 years. Unfortunately, in Pakistan the ‘Thief Executives’ get promoted to the higher positions so that they could rob more and more and share the stolen money with those who helped them get away with their crimes. You scratch my back, I will scratch yours! Instead of reducing poverty the NGO mafia has created more pseudo-millionaires among its rank and file!


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