Everyone – once in a gathering – become very vociferous about transparency in development of government schemes, amount of corruptions at all levels etc., which is fine; but how do you talk about corruption and complaints without risking your reputation? But then that too doesn’t bother many when they talk about the subject in spite of being vulnerable to it directly and/or indirectly.
I – with my limited exposure to any NGO or non-profitable companies – started believing that they too are no more immune to corrupt practices as in other institutions or sectors. Needless to say, in developing organisations it can be especially harmful and have a knock-on effect on reputation and revenues – all the more so if it is humanitarian organisation. It’s a very serious issue and without proper strategies in place, accountability can be difficult.
Corruption in any form – fraud with funds, nepotism (this too end up in financial fraud only), kick-backs and double funding can divert resources, breed conflict and inflate the basic costs of services for the poor – undermining the very philosophy majority of the NGOs stand for. Normally, an individual who – by virtue of his abilities – is entrusted to run an organisation should run it to his/her best of abilities and handover to the next person gracefully and then continue to be a contributing member. Charity is at the end contribution only and I do not think that charity will be done ONLY IF I or my people are at the helm of the affairs. If on the other hand, if the outgoing person try and install his cronies into various positions it obviously do not need much intelligence to understand the heinous intentions behind such acts. And this, not only amount to corrupt practices but crack the foundation of the institution itself.
There is no doubt that adopting a pro-active and transparent approach to dealing with corruption can pose short-term risks to an NGO’s reputation. Nobody (organisations or persons), likes to be mentioned in a corruption report. That weakness should be properly exploited to fight corruption. Name and shame instead of sitting and waiting passively for another case to come up as yet another surprise.
I am one person who has been talking about public audit of NGO funds since may be more than a decade now. The absence of public audit is one of the key reasons for possible corruption in NGOs. Not to say that the auditors are non-corrupt angels; but that will work as a deterrent in the least. When I advocate public audit, I do not have any qualms of wiping corruption clean; but it can be brought to insignificant numbers.
One should know that, we are now talking about millions of crores per annum being transacted by an estimated three and half million NGOs operating in this country. Why should there be no public audit and also why should we be so naïve to believe that corrupt practices will not exist where the budget involved is in such magnitude? After all not all NGOs are in humanitarian service and a significant percentage who claim to be so are indulging in many other interests proved many times.
Few years’ back, I used to donate regularly and liberally to one international NGO for years together sponsoring for children. Once I was pleasantly surprised to see one of their centers at Mahabalipuram, near Chennai. With the pride of a regular donor, I tried to convince the gateman as well as the local head to allow me inside to see the children they take care. I was denied entry on the pretext of some permission needed from their higher ups sitting elsewhere thousands of kms away. Effectively “I can’t allow you” was told me differently. To me it meant they have either something to hide or they do not have something to show which they can take pride of with all the money they may be drawing from public. Otherwise they should feel extremely elated to show a regular donor around the facility, systems etc., for which he and millions like him, have been donating.
Credibility and trust is the driving force behind any NGO and even a perceived mal-practice can harm trust/image/brand of the institution. Especially if an issue is mismanaged or hidden instead of being openly and pro-actively presented. Whereas, what one generally gets to see are justifications presented in Tonnes rather than coming straight and clean.
There is an old saying “Rob Tom to pay Peter”. If we twist it with a positive meaning, any humanitarian NGO solicits (instead of robbing) funds from like-minded and willing individuals/corporates to pay the needy. Now, it is for the NGO to ensure that someone’s fund solicited to use for the welfare or changing lives of the lesser privileged should not get ROBBED by even one individual during the cycle. And if that happens it will be absolute shame and the organisation on the whole will be painted black.
Being part of humanitarian service is as or more important as Being human.
Make a strong and clear resolution to a zero-tolerance approach to corruption or any such actions that has potential to breed corrupt practices.
Assess where you are most at risk and prioritize your efforts to mitigate the risks, which might undermine your mission and threaten your reputation. We have to devise and implement procedures, which mitigate those risks by enabling you to resist, avoid or prevent corrupt practices. Dissemination and communication should be our policy and procedures inside and outside your NGO.
Madhu K. Nair [22nd August 2015]