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26.10.2005 Press Review

EDITORIAL: Who Are NGO's Accountable To?

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The Non Governmental Organization (NGO) business is a multi-billion dollar industry. From high profile organizations like OXFAM and the International Committee of the Red Cross to local organizations fighting for indigenous peoples' rights and other well meaning campaigns, the NGO has now come to occupy an important segment of local and international governance.

Some are overtly political, espousing left or right wing causes; others are more covert, choosing rather to clothe their real intentions in very benign-looking facades.

One thing a lot of them have in common is the abundance of self-righteousness tinged with the indignation of people who have a feeling of infallibility. A lot are generally what they say they are: non-governmental self-help institutions. The self-help NGOs are often the only sources of succour and support for people with special or debilitating handicaps.

Their relevance cannot be downplayed in a world where resources are so hard to come by. NGOs have the ability of raising money - a lot of it, which they employ in the service of the causes they espouse. But who are they really accountable to?

Last week when Transparency International issued its so called corruption index, much was made of it by a local NGO specializing in corruption and other integrity issues, but a close look at the methods used to arrive at the "index" left much to be desired.

It is not our wish to denigrate the work of NGOs, but just to remind them that they are just as accountable as the elected officials they often seem to resent so much.