The government hopes to control the billions of rands allocated for development with a controversial licensing proposal, reports Chris Louw
A POWER struggle is raging between the government and independent development organisations for control over billions of rands flowing into the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) from abroad.
At stake is R2-3 billion allocated to the independent non- governmental organisations (NGOs) by their funders abroad. This is at least as much as the R2,5-billion budgeted for the RDP by the government.
At the centre of the battle is a plan to issue “licences” to anyone wanting to do training for the RDP. Documents obtained by the Mail & Guardian this week reveal the thinking in ANC inner circles is that such licences will help ensure effective use of all available funds so as to deliver on promises made during the election campaign.
This plan was discussed at the cabinet this week, where it was suggested that it become a “presidential project”, thus heightening NGO fears of centralised control over their work.
The plans were contained in proposals for the National Capacity Building Programme (NCBP) of the RDP, drawn up by Ben Cashdan of Wits University’s Graduate School of Public and Development Management (P&DM). The plan marked “Confidential”, forms part of a white paper being prepared as the basis for future RDP legislation.
It was recently circulated among NGOs, causing a storm in this sector.
The document proposes that training organisations be compelled to apply to become RDP-licensed training agencies. “If their applications are successful, they will receive a full set of RDP-approved training resources and will be able to advertise and run modular RDP institutional development courses.”
It is also proposed that the 90 facilitators be trained in the first 12 months — which critics see as an “overt effort by some to establish themselves as watchdogs over the RDP”.
But Dr Mark Swilling of the P&DM said that his institute no longer had anything to do with this proposal, which had changed substantially since P&DM’s involvement in it.
P&DM had opposed over-centralised control and others would probably fill the watchdog role envisaged in the documents, he said.
Licence agreements, according to the NCBP document, will specify the minimum number of courses trainers have to run in a year, and the minimum number of community organisations they must train.
RDP training licences would be reviewed every 12 months “and if necessary licences will be reallocated”. The document deems licensing necessary as an “effective means of quality control which is frequently used in commercial enterprises”.
NGOs, most of which were established during the apartheid years, have a reputation — not always deserved — for wasting money and inefficiency. But development workers warned this week that central control of NGO funds would kill off almost half of the country’s existing 54 000 non- profit social agencies, including mass and community-based organisations.
Most of those known to oppose the direction of the RDP national office were not prepared to go on record with their criticism for fear of reprisal.
But Zane Dangor, co-ordinator of the Independent Study into an Enabling Environment for NGOs (IS), warned of the “potential danger” in the nature of the partnership between NGOs and the government. Although NGO partnerships should be forged with certain elements of the new government, “this should not result in the wholesale co-option of NGOs by government”. Many NGOs, he said, are concerned about the message filtering down from government sources: “comply with the RDP or perish”.
He also wanted to know what “watchdog” would determine whether NGOs are involved in activities that fall within the framework of the RDP.
Tony Harding, of the Development Resources Centre (DRC) in Johannesburg, warned that there was a temptation during the period of political transition to concentrate power. “But it would be a serious error of judgment to instrumentalise the NGO sector through patronage for the sake of economic and political expedience.”
The South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) is also accused by independent development agencies of claiming its pound of flesh. Sanco has become openly critical of NGOs, which they term “unaccountable gatekeepers”.
A Sanco document published before the election, entitled “Making people-driven development work”, warned NGOs that the “free lunch is over”. NGOs, the document says, carried out many government functions. “Civil society has been distorted by its role in the anti-apartheid struggle.”
“Unaccountable gatekeepers” are also accused of controlling “substantial funds and hundreds of thousands of jobs”.
Non-church NGOs, it is said, are major non-profit businesses.
Sanco argued that NGOs are trapped by being supported by one or two big donors, and are facing a funding crisis, so powerful donors and gatekeepers exert excessive influence over NGOs.
NGOs are “less good at empowerment than they claim”. Sanco said.
“They are rarely accountable to communities.”
Foreign donors have been bypassing government (in an effort to undermine apartheid), “but this would not be allowed elsewhere”.
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