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26.01.2009 Business & Finance

Discussions on NGOs accountability held

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Panelists and participants at a day's roundtable on the role of non-state actors in mobilizing and applying aid, were on Monday caught in a protracted argument over whether or not Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Ghana were accountable enough.

Professor Ernest Aryeetey, Director of the Institute of Statistical, Social Economics Research (ISSER) of the University of Ghana who set the ball rolling said NGOs were quick to call on government to be accountable but they themselves were not very much accountable to the people.

Prof. Aryeetey made the remark when he presented an executive summary of a report from a research conducted by ISSER on The role of Private Actors in a Changing Aid Landscape: Case study from Ghana at the roundtable discussion.

The research was co-sponsored by the World Bank, Kellogg Foundation, NORAD and it was intended to document the nature of the changes highlighting how private actors stand in relation to state actors.

It formed part of a world bank project launched in August last year to find sustainable ways of coordinating and harmonizing aid at both the official and private levels to ensure that they met the development aspirations of beneficiary countries more effectively.

The areas covered in the report included all transfers from private sources to NGOs for development purposes, contribution of all private foundations to both government and non-government development projects, the direct contributions of the corporate sector to all development activities as well as remittances and individual donations.

Prof. Aryeetey noted that the research found that prior to economic reforms, particularly under the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS1), NGOs played very little role in the mobilization and disbursement of aid funds and projects.

“But economic reforms brought in its wake increased numbers and involvement of NGOs in aid activities,” he said.

He noted that international transfers to NGOs had been consistent and that made it possible for them to undertake several sustainable projects, saying however that it had been difficult obtaining reports from the NGOs on how much they spent on those activities.

“It was for instance difficult to obtain how much domestic NGOs have spent on water, health, education and other sectors on a whole.

“The NGOs are more than willing to give out brochures on projects they have undertaken and they be-labour the point about their contribution to development but they fall short of being accountable to the people when it comes to the records on applications of funds,” he said.

Prof. Aryeetey said during his study he visited the websites of lots of NGOs but did not find detailed reports of their activities in the country, adding that some of websites had links to mother international NGOs where one could obtain global information rather than specific country information.

“NGOs must give complete and detailed information to the public for whom they are given funds to undertake projects,” he said.

Mrs. Yvonne Quansah from the Ministry of Finance supported Prof. Aryeetey by saying that, NGOs needed to provide government with a database of their activities and expenditure “to enable us ascertain whether their activities are in line with our national development agenda.”

Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey, Executive Director of Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG), disagreed with Prof. Aryeetey saying that NGOs are actually accountable, but to their mother organizations abroad.

“The assertion that NGOs are not accountable to the people is not true,” he said.

He said besides filing returns to their mother organizations, NGOs also file annual reports to various state bodies such as the Internal Revenue Service, Registrar General and the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, all of which constituted avenues where detailed reports on NGOs activities could be obtained.

Dr. Akwetey said the failure to coordinate the reports on NGOs' activities should be laid squarely at the doorstep of the government, saying that it was the duty of the government to set up a competent agency to coordinate the activities of NGOs.

“Since year 2000 when the proposal of the setting up of an NGOs Commission, in the likeness of the British Charity Commission, to coordinate activities of NGOs was put forward, government has failed to move it forward.

“Instead the government agencies which deal with the NGOs have chosen to hide their incompetence under undue control and unfriendly mechanisms towards NGOs,” he said.

Meanwhile the report said the Bank of Ghana estimated that NGOs attracted US$173.2 million in 2005 for welfare and development purposes, but the figure dropped to US$149.8 million by September 2008.

It said Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the Ghana government in pursuit of GPRS rose from US$814 million in 2003 to US$1,796.54 million in 2008, adding that the mining sector contributed US$13.5 million while the banking sector contributed US$15 million in corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects.

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