Taking Corruption Seriously in the NGOs:Minimixing Waste and Maximizing Impact


Salai Van Cung Lian

It won’t be a surprising thing if someone said the NGOs and CSOs are not immune to cases of corruption, according to a handful of concrete evidences generated by the Chinbridge Institute. It means that public trust in non-governmental development actors such as NGOs, CSOs and Media is low, if not declining to the bottom. Therefore, it should be acknowledged that we are in a time when non-governmental actors need to reconsider and practice transparency to regain public trust and maximize the impact of works.

How hidden corruption is in the NGOs?

Corruption in any organization, particularly in non-governmental organizations, hinders effective implementation of project, and blocks achieving the objective of such project. It minimizes rather than maximizing the impact of any development project. But for many people it is hard to know how corruption operates in humanitarian sector.

One reason is that corruption in humanitarian sector is very much a hidden thing like any other. Its secrecy nature and by itself is even much more complex than in other sectors partly because people are often reluctant to talk about it seemly owing to fear of a loss of funding and bad publicity – that would be, if any, a huge damage to public mandate. This is the reason why even some donor organizations have failed to disclose corruption scandals within and among their grantees. Recent undisclosed unethical incident committed by one of Yangon-based NGOs has proven it. This however is not the only case.

The big question is why should taxpayers fund if assistances don’t go to target communities as intended originally? It is time to rethink about it. The fact for taxpayers is that when the money doesn’t go to where it is originally intended, losing a funding for any organization is not losing at all but rather it is saving money and not wasting it. Tackling corruption, therefore, is a must step to be taken to maximize the impact of any kind of humanitarian work.

Trust in the NGOs seems quite low, research finding suggested.

According to Chinbridge Institute report on public attitudes survey, the majority of survey respondents from Hakha indicated that they have lost trust in the NGOs.

When a total of 658 respondents living in Hakha town were asked generalized number of NGOs leaders who have involved in corrupt action in the last 18 months prior to November 2017, 30% of them said that some of NGOs leaders involved in corrupt action, 17% said majority of them whereas 9% said all of them involved in corrupt action.

Although above figure could possibly be based on perception rather than experience, evidences has supported that such perception is more than perception but informed by practical experiences.

This is the key reason why it is time for non-governmental organizations to take transparency more seriously than ever before.

What Constitutes Transparency in the NGOs?

Transparency in non-governmental organization can includes having a strong governance structure aided by social audits, an adequate anti-fraud policy and adopting contextualized complaint mechanism. Partnership is not always a solution. A strong institution with a strong governance system and policy does.

However, even a strong governance structure and adequate complaint mechanism can’t completely keep corruption at the bay. It is important to take good measure of development work impact. A further step would be to invest more to adequately measure and evaluate works, including a proper financial disclosure. If the NGOs dare to publicize how money is spent, it would be the most effective tool to promote transparency and accountability within, among and outside the NGOs.

I met a dozen of people working in the NGOs. Some of them have had experience of getting their own salary cut with and without their consent. But how and why this happened is a question. The possible reasons, among others, is that top leaders are driven by money rather than development agenda and used humanitarian programs for their personal profits. Another widely accepted reason is organization sustainability. Salary cut, for instance, is one way to maintain organization sustainability for many NGOs for some of non-governmental development actors.

Bu does employee salary cut really ensures sustainability of an organization?

A plausible answer is ‘absolutely not.’ Salary doesn’t flow like water. It ended as soon as a project is ended. Therefore, it doesn’t guarantee organization sustainability.

If NGOs really care about sustainability of organization, it is time to consider generating revenue and profit through small charity businesses. Attempting to sustain organization by cutting salary and hiding salary cut in finance report can do much more harm and make thing worse than any other way round.

Why Tackling Corruption in the Humanitarian Aids is Important?

Although there are no specific figures on how much aid is lost to corruption, but it is pretty certain that corruption undermines trust and dignity of social workers, and hinder development works. It undermines the dignity of social workers, it disproportionately maximizes impartiality in delivering development assistances, harms partnership among the NGOs and with the government. In addition, it also hinders reaching people with helps who need it most. In addition, corruption in the non-governmental organization also reduces workers’ commitment and has negative affect on the morale of such workers.

Finally, it could be a mistake to think that NGOs are transparent enough when they haven’t disclosed any financial report publicly yet. Saying NGOs are transparent and accountable in this way can do more harm than good. Additionally, showing an estimate project budget to team members but not giving communities a chance to access to actual expenses of such budget can be a harmful trick for an organization itself. Furthermore, whereas it is certain that a significant reduction of corruption in the NGOs will definitely maximize impact and make a different in the lives of local communities, it is not very much sure that the NGOs will take step toward transparency without a pressure from grant-making organizations.

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