Crisis driven NGOs are Western agriculture output distribution channels and business brands dressed like Mother Teresa

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I have just finished reading a book entitled the Crisis Caravan by LInda Polman. Though it is 15 years old, it is really fascinating.  It gives you an insight into humanitarian aid.  And now I understand why non-governmental organisations and civil society in Zimbabwe are against the Private Voluntary Organisations bill.

NGOs, as Polman says, are businesses dressed like Mother Teresa. They are in the business to make money rather than to help the so-called poor or the vulnerable or whatever they call people that they claim to be “helping”.

Mother Teresa was declared a saint by the Catholic Church when she died, but Polman and other writers show that she was a cunning nun who made a lot of money but refused to give the poor basic things that they needed.

She was a multi-millionaire in US dollar terms but it was never clear whether the money she had in the United States, for example, was personal money or it belonged to her organisation.

Journalist Christopher Hitchens called her a fraud and a fanatic in his book, The Missionary Position.

Academic,Geneviève Chénard, a professor at the University of Montreal, wrote in the New York Times: “Her Missionary of Charity was (and still is) one of the richest organisations in the world, and yet at the facility under her watch, used syringes were rinsed with cold water, tuberculosis patients were not put in quarantine and pain medicine was not prescribed.

“Mother Teresa believed that suffering made you closer to God. Maybe her reputation influenced people to do good, but her real work doesn’t stand up to her reputation.

“And during the years she ran the clinic in India on a budget of more than US$29 million, major floods occurred, one of which left 200 dead and more than 300 000 homeless. What did Mother Teresa do with her money? She offered prayers.”

NGOs are a booming business in Zimbabwe. Officially, there are just over 1 000 but the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front put them at over 3 000.

Take the Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe, for example. It says it has about 80 affiliate non-governmental organisations. I ask myself what are all these 80 organisations doing? Imagine each affiliate having an office with an executive director, a programme officer, a coordinator and supporting staff. Ain’t this already an industry?

Imagine each executive director and programme officer has a four-by-four as NGOs are fond of? How much money is being wasted?  What are they doing to end the so-called crises? What will happen if the so-called crisis ends?  Do these 80 organisations want the crisis to end in the first place? Or, they are already creating their own crises to justify their continued existence?

Way back in 1995 I was approached by people living with AIDS to investigate what was happening at the AIDS Counselling Trust. The organisation was broke. Health Minister Timothy Stamps had auctioned his hair to raise funds for the organisation. People living with AIDS said this was a stunt because ACT was not doing much for people living with AIDS.

My investigation revealed that ACT had spent only $13 401 on AIDS counselling out of a budget of $1.4 million in 1994. Salaries of 19 employees consumed $673 432 but none of the employees was HIV positive. ACT also spent $63 866 to enable one of its directors to attend a conference in Japan.

ACT, it seemed, had taken advantage of people living with AIDS to enable a few people to earn a good living.  Now Zimbabwe is asking NGOs to account for what they are doing and they are crying foul. Why, probably because they are not doing what they claim to be doing.

According to Crisis Caravan, Rwanda closed 50 NGOs after they could not offer a clear explanation of who they were and what they were doing?

Surely, one is bound to ask, what are 22 human rights organisations under the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum doing? Or what are 37 non-governmental organisations that form the Zimbabwe Elections Supervisory Network doing? And what are the 80 organisations in the Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe doing?

If an NGO is spending less than 1% of its budget on its core activity, is such an NGO warranted?

That is not all. Almost all local NGOs are dependent on Western governments or international non-government organisations for sponsorship. While donors claim to be assisting the disadvantaged, studies show that they are in fact supporting their own nationals and industries.

Polman says, on average, 60% of official aid from donor governments is phantom aid.  That is, “the money never leaves the donor country but is paid straight into the bank accounts of a range of development-aid innovation platforms, consciousness-raising and base-broadening initiatives, interest groups and lobby groups, policy advisers and Third World experts”.

In some cases NGOs are obliged to source all products and services from the donor country, even those that could be acquired far more cheaply in the crisis zone itself.

“The United States is the largest donor of phantom aid: 70 to 80 percent of all American government aid money is paid to American organizations, American factories, American contractors, and American transport companies,” Polman says.

American researcher Jake Johnston,said “the principal beneficiary of America’s foreign assistance programmes has always been the United States”.

Writing about USAID’s role in Haiti following a devastating earthquake that killed more than 200 000 people and displaced about 1.5 million, Johnston said for every dollar that USAID spent in Haiti, less than one penny (cent) went directly to Haitian organisations, the rest went to US corporations.

“As a jobs creator back home, USAID’s Haiti reconstruction effort has been an astounding success,” Johnston wrote. “The single largest recipient of USAID funding in Haiti was a for-profit, DC-based firm, Chemonics International, through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives.”

That is not all. In some cases, the funds said to have been released to a country are frittered away and are totally useless by the time they get to the intended beneficiaries.

Clare Lockhart tells this story of what happened in Afghanistan after people had been promised US$150 million for reconstruction.  She quotes a young man, saying:  “We heard on the radio that there was going to be a reconstruction programme in our region to help us rebuild our houses after coming back from exile, and we were very pleased.

“After many months, very little had happened. We may be illiterate, but we are not stupid. So we went to find out what was going on. And this is what we discovered:

“The money was received by an agency in Geneva, who took 20 per cent and subcontracted the job to another agency in Washington DC, who also took 20 per cent. Again it was subcontracted and another 20 per cent was taken; and this happened again when the money arrived in Kabul.

“By this time there was very little money left; but enough for someone to buy wood in western Iran and have it shipped by a shipping cartel owned by a provincial governor at five times the cost of regular transportation.

“Eventually some wooden beams reached our villages. But the beams were too large and heavy for the mud walls that we can build. So all we could do was chop them up and use them for firewood.”

Could the same thing be happening in Zimbabwe?

Most likely. Two examples quickly come to mind.

Chemonics, which benefited from the aid programmes in Haiti and Afghanistan, was contracted by the US Agency for International Development to supply malaria kits to Zimbabwe. It ordered test kits worth nearly US$500 000 but these had been rejected by the Zimbabwe government earlier.
Population Services International ordered condoms from the United Kingdom when a local pharmaceutical company, CAPS, was manufacturing them and had been supplying the Family Planning Council, the same organisation PSI was ordering condoms for.

Worse. Donors can even change people’s diets. They give you rice, wheat  or yellow maize from their countries when you need white maize.
Graham Hancock, in his book,Lords of Poverty, says USAID operates on the streetwise principle that those who accept free handouts today will become paying customers tomorrow.

“AID’s ethics are very little different from those of a drug pusher when it boasts as it frequently does about past recipients of food aid who are now among the top purchasers of US agricultural exports,” he says.

Source: ZimInsider