From the BBC World Service. This series – The Giving Game looks critically at how NGOs, business and local governments of developing countries interact. Some of those he interviewed suggested that NGOs – which are generally not formally accountable to anyone, particularly anyone in the developing countries they minister to – are getting to be more powerful than some governments in those countries. It is suggested that this undermines the role of democratically-elected governments (where the governments *are* democratically elected). A lot of the criticism of NGO power comes from “Michael Edwards”:http://www.futurepositive.org/Edwards.html, an ex-manager of Oxfam and Save the Children. “Clare Short”:http://politics.guardian.co.uk/profiles/story/0,9396,-4749,00.html (now no longer Britain’s Secretary
of State for International Development) is also an advocate of trying to build governing capacity in less developed countries rather than doing an ‘end run’ around them by giving money to NGOs.
I can see their points of course, but it’s hard to justify giving money to a corrupt or just ineffective government when you could give it to an unaccountable but dedicated NGO in a country.
Another of the interesting points that comes out of the series is just how small the amount of money is that NGOs have to spend compared even to the inadequate amount of government-directed aid. It does suggest that they might be more useful in trying to guide aid policy than actually doing work on the ground themselves (though they argue that it is only by being ‘on the ground’ that they can understand the needs of the people they claim to be speaking for).