Pakistan’s new policy to regulate the registration and operations of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) has been strongly condemned by civil society.
Issued on 1 October 2015, the new rules place substantial burdens on INGOs while subjecting them to debilitating bureaucratic controls including through excessive interference in their activities and limits on placement and retention of staff.
“Pakistan’s INGO policy sets a bad precedent, undermining the contributions of international civil society in advancing sustainable development, human rights and social justice,” said Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. “While it’s critical that local civil society plays a leading role in shaping local solutions, we also recognise that INGOs play an important role, especially given the political and resource constraints on local NGOs. The policy is sadly and purposefully designed to inhibit the work of INGOs and weaken the independence of the non-profit sector in Pakistan.”
Under the new rules, INGOs are required to enter into a memorandum of understanding with government authorities valid for a maximum period of three years. As part of the memorandum of understanding, INGOs are required to report on their activities every six months, restrict administrative costs on projects to 30%, limit their international staff to 10% and obtain approval from provincial and local authorities before implementing projects.
In addition, INGOs must obtain mandatory registration through the ministry of interior and are subject to monitoring and streamlining of their activities by an INGO committee within the same ministry. INGOs already operating in Pakistan have been given 60 days starting 1 October to apply for registration.
The policy prohibits INGOs from providing any kind of financial or material assistance to local or international NGOs without prior permission. INGOs are not permitted to raise funds from within Pakistan unless specifically authorised to do so. They are required to submit an ‘Annual Plan of Action’ to government authorities indicating details of projects and budgetary allocations including all sources of their international funding and bank accounts.
Security clearances from Pakistani missions abroad as well as the ministry of interior are required to be obtained before hiring of foreign nationals by INGOs. Movement of foreign staff of INGOs is restricted under the policy to their areas of activities while duration of visas to work in Pakistan for INGO foreign employees is limited to one year.
Control over INGOs is further reinforced by prohibiting them from taking part in or assisting in any kind of “political activities” (undefined in the policy) or from conducting research or surveys unrelated to their terms of reference or be involved in any activities inconsistent with “national interest” (undefined). The government is also empowered to seek “any information” from time to time from INGOs.
“The sheer amount of bureaucratic burden placed on INGOs through the new policy will make it virtually impossible for them to function with any level of autonomy or effectiveness,” said Sriskandarajah.