Why the board is mudslinging non-governmental organizations

By: GEORGE KEGORO

Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru has deferred the decision of the NGO Board, which had earlier declared the commencement of a process towards the de-registration of 959 non-compliant NGOs, announcing that the de-registration will now not go on after the expiry of the 14-day deadline that had been provided.

Instead, more time will be provided to allow the affected NGOs to comply.

A press statement issued by the board also announced the extension of this deadline and indicated that this was done in consultation with the CS.

The original announcement about the intended ban had claimed that the NGO sector injected Sh140 billion into the economy but that Sh23 billion could not be accounted for as it was the subject of misappropriation or embezzlement, money laundering or financing of terrorism.

The board announced that its forensic audit had established that out of the 10,000 NGOs in its register, the 959 that were now the subject of de-registration had “failed, refused, neglected and/or declined to account for the funds they received despite the numerous reminders issued to them by the board.”

The statement of the board selected three NGOs for detailed discussion, among them the Kenya Human Rights Commission, which it accused of “filing false reports with glaring discrepancies.”

This new crusade by the board against NGOs raises a number of questions.

AN EXPENSIVE UNDERTAKING

First, this is the first time that the carrying out of a “forensic audit”, which allegedly informed the decisions that are currently being implemented, is being disclosed to the public.

A forensic audit of 10,000 entities spread around the country is a massive exercise, one that would take a large amount of time and would involve a significant financial outlay.

Since no evidence in the public sphere exists as would suggest that such a process has recently taken place, it is more likely that it has not, and that the NGO board is not telling the truth.

When, on Friday last week, two staff lawyers of the Kenya Human Rights Commission visited the NGO board for an explanation of the situation, to which the Commission had earlier written requesting an explanation, the officials with whom they spoke indicated that the board did not have any more information than the scanty details that had been published in the media.

Secondly, an audit, including a forensic one, is not complete until persons against whom adverse allegations exist are provided with the opportunity to respond to those allegations.

For example, how, without a hearing of all sides concerned, can an allegation of misappropriation of funds be conclusively established?

A failure to provide a chance to respond to adverse allegations can be because the auditor has a pre-determined outcome, particularly one that seeks to nail the subject of audit.

The claim that “numerous reminders” were sent to the concerned NGOs is not true in relation to the KHRC, which had never heard about its alleged non-compliant status before last week.

BOLSTERING AL-SHABAAB

When announcing the postponement of the deadline for NGOs to account, both Waiguru and the board stated that insufficient opportunity to comply had been provided to the concerned NGOs and the extension was to allow these to do so, thus also now confirming that the media was the only means that the board had employed to deal with the NGOs it is supposed to regulate.

Thus, this is a case where the government has gone out of its way to make grave allegations, which have severe legal consequences, before completing basic investigative procedures which require hearing the side of the story of the entities accused of non-compliance.

We have been here before when, in April, following the Garissa University terrorist attack, the Inspector-General of Police announced a ban on 85 entities, for being associated with Al-Shabaab.

Like the 959 NGOs, those in the Inspector-General’s list were unaware of any proceedings against them, with media reports being the only source of information about their alleged association with Al- Shabaab.

Thirdly, it is now clear that what is being presented as a bona fide law enforcement process is, in fact, a targeted attack on individual NGOs for political reasons.

The singling out of the KHRC fits into this pattern, while the curious decision to single out NGOs that had since become compliant seems like an exercise to protect favourites from the damage suffered from their initial listing.

It is clear that the NGO board is the chosen tool for bringing down NGOs with which the government is unhappy.

MUDSLINGING NGOs

This is not the first time that the board has published names of NGOs that it seeks to ban.

A similar list was published last year but the process petered out, as nothing came of it.

While, at one level, this latest listing of organisations is a meaningless act of mudslinging calculated to embarrass and damage reputations that organisations have striven to build, it is a display of rank incompetence at another.

One imagines that there, in fact, exist organisations in the country that are out to harm the national interest by engaging in the acts that those listed by the NGO board are accused of.

What the board regards as investigation seems to consist of media statements, an investigative method that is unlikely to unearth such organisations.

Once again, a country with no shortage of real problems, is pre-occupied with the mundane.

The only purpose seems to be harassment of NGOs, to divert attention from those problems.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION