Using NGOs to coerce nations

 Author:  Sandhya Jain

Western nations fund NGOs operating in developing countries to influence policy and subvert institutions. India does not need foreign-funded NGOs.

Non-Western nations have long known that non-Government organisations, ostensibly set up to provide humanitarian services to citizens in their respective countries, such as against the police or other public authorities, fighting poverty or environmental degradation, are funded by foreign regimes to serve their agendas. They are, in that sense, a tool of coercive diplomacy, or war by other means.

Some weeks ago, Egypt, front-runner of the aborted Arab Spring, clamped down on foreign NGOs and refused to licence eight US civil groups, including the election-monitoring Carter Centre, prior to the presidential poll. Under Egyptian law, NGOs cannot operate without licence.

American NGOs, called ‘quangos’, tend to focus on promoting democracy abroad, an euphemism for electing Governments that serve American interests. Last month, the UAE decided to shut down the offices of an American ‘quango’ run by the Democratic Party but mainly funded by the US Government. Observers said the move was engineered by Riyadh and other capitals that felt the ‘quango’ was interfering in their internal affairs, and hence urged the UAE to close it.

Many capitals view ‘quangos’ as intrusive of national sovereignty. By grooming ‘democracy activists’ — recall the Coloured Revolutions in former Soviet republics — they create the environment for US-desired changes to occur. The decision by the UAE and other Gulf countries to curtail the functioning of German and US foundations is likely to usher in a new system whereby entities directly or indirectly funded by foreign Governments will be allowed to function only under negotiated agreements and can no longer operate as they please.

The National Endowment for Democracy, closely associated with the Reagan Administration, was conceived as a tool of US foreign policy by its founder Mr Allen Weinstein, a former professor, Washington Post writer, and member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a neo-conservative think-tank whose members included Mr Henry Kissinger and Mr Zbigniew Brzezinski. The NED’s first director, Mr Carl Gershman, was candid that it was a front for the CIA. From its inception in 1983, the NED’s annual funds are approved by the US Congress as part of the United States Information Agency budget. Its activities include funding anti-Left and anti-labour movements; meddling in elections in Venezuela and Haiti; and, creating instability in countries resisting imperial America.

Freedom House, set up in 1941 as a pro-democracy and pro-human rights organisation, is engaged with the Project for the New American Century, and much of the war-mongering in Washington, DC. The Bush Administration used it to support its ‘War on Terror’. The US Government provides 66 per cent of its funding via USAID, the State Department, and the NED. Freedom House leapt into the Arab Spring, training and financing civil society groups and individuals, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and grassroots activists in Yemen.

The Bush Administration also compelled NGOs to serve its imperial agenda. In 2003, USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios said the NGO-USAID link helped the Karzai Government to survive, but Afghans did not appreciate this. In Iraq, he wanted NGO work there to show a connection with US policy. It is difficult to be more explicit.

By far the most important tool of empire is Amnesty International. Its current executive director, Ms Suzanne Nossel, was previously Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organisations at the US State Department. She is credited with coining the term ‘smart power’ to achieve US goals by recruiting others to work for them, as in Libya, where Washington used the UN to engage in ‘humanitarian intervention.’

Amnesty has actively joined the propaganda war against Syria. The author of a 2011 report on custody deaths in that country confessed in an interview that Amnesty had not been allowed to enter Syria at the time, so research for the report was done mainly from London, neighboring countries and other sources. In other words, unverified information.

In India, despite decades of unhappiness with Western NGOs, the Union Government decided to openly confront them only when it felt aggrieved over the stalling of its Rs 15,000 crore Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu, and protests over genetically modified crops. Indian law bans NGOs from taking foreign funds for political purposes or affecting the security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the state. The Church-organised Kudankulam protest was purely political.

Popular concerns over the power of NGOs, however, stem from their staggering funding, dubious agendas including religious conversion, and untrammelled powers to interfere in domestic matters. Data available with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, as reported first by The Pioneer, shows that in the nine years between 2001 and 2010, NGOs received more than Rs 70,000 crore. The highest donors were the US, Germany and Britain, and the most significant recipients include Gospel For Asia Inc, USA (Rs 232.71 crore), Fundacion Vicente Ferrer, Barcelona, Spain (Rs 228.60 crore) and World Vision Global Centre, USA (Rs 197.62 crore).

Analaysis of the data shows that the greatest sums out of the foreign contributions were utilised for establishment expenses (Rs 1482.58 crore), followed by rural development (Rs 944.30 crore), welfare of children (Rs 742.42 crore), construction and maintenance of school/college (Rs 630.78 crore) and grant of stipend/scholarship/ assistance in cash and kind to poor/deserving children (Rs 454.70 crore). Note the diminishing values.

Now, if 50 per cent to 70 per cent of the funds of any organisation are spent on establishment expenses, such as buying land, buildings, vehicles, office infrastructure, mobiles, laptops and cameras, paying salaries, consultancy fees, honorarium, and on foreign travel, should such expenditure be tax-free when there is no public beneficiary?

Huge sums are expended on conversions, which also cannot be designated as ‘charity’ or ‘public service’. World Vision, in particular, has an exclusive Christian identity, as attested to by its own website, where it admits that while 20 per cent of its worldwide staff belongs to other faiths, all prospective staff are expected to affirm their Christian faith in writing. This was after firing some staff in America for changing their religious affiliations.

In the light of these experiences, many Indians feel that the country does not need foreign aid to improve the lot of its citizens, and that all social service activities can be meaningfully conducted with local donations. As India itself provides considerable assistance to other Asian and African nations, there is no merit in accepting foreign funding on the pretext of charity, and then using the same for conversions or politics.