Civil community organizations and the absent role [Archives:2008/1141/Opinion]

March 27 2008

By: Fayez Al-Bukhari
Yemen is experiencing a growing number of civil community organizations, which raises multiple questions and makes us question why the number of these NGOs continue to increase. According to a recent report released by the Development Sector at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, there are more than five thousand organizations nationwide, and this number seems to be very large in a country like Yemen, as opposed to the number of these organizations in the different European and American countries that doesn't exceed the range of hundreds in each country.

The score implies a persisting flaw in the regulations and laws governing the operations and activities of these organizations, as well as a weakness on the part of lawmakers and those in charge of granting permissions to these organizations to exercise business. In addition, the situation indicates that some incompetent individuals have either established NGOs or joined them. These individuals establish NGOs to make personal interests, and therefore they don't care about providing their communities even with the simplest kinds of services. Most of them are found interested in founding new NGOs in order to receive funds from international donors.

The worst thing is that some NGOs have deviated in their operations since they turn to serve the interests of particular political parties, which is considered a legal violation, as well as a gap that makes the civil community lose its credibility and open the door for unpatriotic and malicious functions under the umbrella of NGOs and civil community activities.

In fact, there is a shortcoming and weakness on the part of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor that doesn't seriously monitor all the NGOs so that it can reward do-gooders and punish wrongdoers. But this doesn't mean that we should perform our duty in the required way only when there is oversight, reward and punishment. Rather, we have to feel responsible toward our society for the sake of which we established these organizations.

These days, our country is in an urgent need for joint efforts and cooperation in order to develop and prosper, and NGOs seem to be closer to citizens and their affairs. Citizens, however, don't need any NGOs to work in their environment and have a direct impact on their community.

I still remember that Undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor for Social Development Sector and the direct official in charge of NGOs, Ali Saleh Abdullah said in an interview with Al-Methaq Weekly a few days ago that “Many parties started to exercise business through civil community organizations, which is by itself a dangerous indicator that these organizations have deviated from their right goals and turned to do other jobs that are non of their business.”

I also remember that Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Dr. Amatarazzaq Hummad said at a civil function that she and the ministry's staff are facing great challenges and difficulties because of the high number of requests for permissions to establish new NGOs. These requesters believe that NGOs can be an income source, and not an instrument to help develop their societies.

This resulted in the relevant ministry facing an actual dilemma due to the increased number of requests submitted by individuals having strong desires to establish new NGOs. And as soon as these individuals obtain permissions to establish NGOs, they claim the ministry to release budgets for the operations of their organizations as of the second day, as if the ministry is a bank or a financial institution. They don't know that they themselves have to provide financial resources for the operations and activities of their organizations prior to requesting permission from this ministry.

In order to ensure survival and continuity of their organizations, the founders should have their own financial resources and not expect funds from international donors since these organizations may not provide funds regularly.

The Minister of Social Affairs & Labor's statements reminded me of the respected T.V Director Dr. Fadhel Al-Ulifi in his famous dramatic serial “Keni Meni” when he embodied the negative picture of civil community organizations in the country. He tried to reproach greedy people, who establish ghost NGOs with the intention of getting funds from international donors.

Through his serial, Al-Ulifi tried to get closer to the absent role of these organizations since they don't care about effective community involvement and appropriate action to serve their societies as much as they care for obtaining funds from international donors.

Statistics show that the number of NGOs in Yemen until June, 2005, came to 4830 including 98 working in the human rights area. The number of woman organizations reaches 325. However, politically oriented organizations do not play the role they are supposed to play. They do not, for example, provide visions and thoughts to enrich the process of reform. Such organizations in Yemen have the custom of “courting the authority”.” They sometimes adopt suggestions just to make certain profits or get some gains from the authority.

If Yemen's NGOs, currently numbering up more than five thousand, work seriously and honestly according to their designed objectives, via which they obtained work permits, these organizations, notably the ones concentrating on charitable works, may do a lot of things for their community, as well as win support and appreciation of the community members.

I reiterate, “Had these organizations worked seriously and honestly within their local communities, we would have never found any poor or needy people, or even idle youths.” Such a large and unexpected number of NGOs can ensure creating job opportunities for nearly three-fourths of the unemployed in Yemen. But, what these organizations have in their agendas is far away from what is being achieved or done in real-life situation.

The role of NGOs in Yemen is still being absent. And, if this role is not quite absent, these organizations may be lacking real programs and plans so that their activities can proceed to the community's advantage. This is what made us highlight the necessary role that should be played by Yemen's NGOs since we care much about building and developing our community. Having attained prosperity, our community will be able to reach numerous achievements that are hardly made by such a large number of NGOs nationwide.

Source: Al-Thawra State-Run Daily