vol-LXXIX : December 1, 2010

Dear Colleagues

How have you been? Here is another random reflection for your perusal:

1. The big story in our part of the world has been focused on corruption—everywhere, from the very top of political and official leadership. While attention has been riveted on the ‘big’ corruption, a recent report by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has also exposed massive corruption in Ministry of Environment and Forests in Delhi in the grant of funds to NGOs (running into several hundred crores of Rupees or hundreds of millions of dollars). This is indeed welcome, and NGOs should demand that CAG undertakes in-depth investigations into government funding of NGOs in ’big’ ministries like Rural Development, Social Justice & Empowerment, etc. What many of us have been speaking about in public over the past decade has now been confirmed by CAG audit—that government officials, ministers and other political leaders ‘siphon-off’ public funds meant for grant-in-aid to NGOs in the country to ‘fake’ NGOs set up by their relatives, party workers and commission agents. That’s why many reputed, honest and well-meaning NGOs do not even apply for public funds!

2.  The freedom movements and people’s revolutions of Africa are not commonplace knowledge to the current generation; remember SWAPO—south west African people’s organization—which spearheaded freedom struggle in the present day Namibia! The freedom of people in this vast country is once again in peril; this time from ‘well-wishers’ who are investing to capture its huge natural, agricultural and land resources. The ‘new’ civil society in Namibia is just beginning to get organized around such issues as land rights and housing for the urban poor. In this country of 2 million people, vast expanse of territory remains uninhabited; but, its social and political space for democratic discourse can surely be captured by civil society.

3.  Whenever American Presidents visit a country, they always have a ‘cocktail’ of interactions—with community, civil society, students, political parties and academics—in addition to, of course, political and business leaders. One doesn’t hear heads of states from the ‘new powers’ like China, India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, South Korea etc doing the same when they visit other countries (other than diaspora dinners?). Why? So, when President Obama came to India, he also did the usual rounds of ‘engagements’. One such engagement was a video conference with women leaders of local bodies in a village in Rajasthan. Great? After the usual publicity of global media was over, the folks in those villages went back to their daily grind of finding enough drinking water. Perhaps President Obama should have asked this question to Indian Prime Minister—how come the now ‘emerged’ global power called India has not been able to arrange potable drinking water to all its citizens (specially after sinking in billions of dollars in various watery schemes)?

4. One of the most consistent supporters of overseas development aid have been the Dutch; Dutch governments have consistently contributed 0.7% (and above) of their GNP to aid for many years; Dutch co-financing NGOs (the big four and others) have been progressive development actors in support of southern civil society for decades. Now, all this going to change dramatically; support of Dutch public to overseas aid is declining; Dutch political leaders are pushing the Dutch NGOs to adopt the mantle of ‘sub-contractors’ of Dutch government; Dutch ‘interests’ (and not poverty eradication, MDGs or climate change, etc) have to be the priority in allocation of Dutch overseas aid. All this was brought home in a recent series of conversations in the Hague. While the postures of Dutch political class are very understandable, what is bothersome is relative lack of public debates and campaigns by Dutch civil society (including the co-financing NGOs) to protest against such decisions and policy shifts. Should southern civil society launch a protest campaign in the Netherlands now (considering that Dutch assistance has taught

5.  As international assistance has been drying up in India (and other emerging economies), many of our international partners have been asking us to explore philanthropy from the rich in the countries. While many new private individual and corporate foundations have been set-up in the past decade in India, most of these fund ‘charitable’ activities which have concrete outcomes that can be counted easily—schools, clinics, disabled, microfinance, toilets, water pumps, etc. Welcome as this support is, it doesn’t provide resources to civil society to hold the governments and public institutions to account for non-delivery of basic services, specially now since massive amounts of tax money are allocated to the provision of these services nation-wide. In this scenario comes the ‘good’ news that India’s very respected business family (the Tatas) have given a single check of $50 million to Harvard Business School to build a training center to be named Tata Hall. The irony of this philanthropic act can be best understood in comparison—Harvard is the largest non-profit institution in the world with an endowment of nearly $20 billion. And, $50 million would have enabled at least 5 civil society organizations in every district and town of India to mobilize citizens to hold the governments to account over the next five years (and is considerably larger than DFID supported PACS programme over the next 7 years)!

All the very best
Rajesh Tandon