INGO Save The Children ordered to close shop

Published June 12, 2015
A policeman stands guard outside Save The Children’s offices. — White Star
A policeman stands guard outside Save The Children’s offices. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: Following weeks of uncertainty regarding the fate of several international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) working in the country, the government sealed the Islamabad offices of Save The Children (STC), and ordered the closure of all their operations in the country.

A letter issued on Thursday by the Economic Affairs Division’s (EAD) section officer for INGOs asked STC to wind up its offices and operations in Pakistan forthwith and inform all expatriate employees to leave the country within 15 days.

The letter was sent to the district administration for immediate compliance and sources said that Assistant Commissioner Kamran Cheema visited the offices of STC in Sector F-6 on Thursday night on the orders of the interior ministry. Sources said that five local employees were present at the office at the time.

The administration served a notice to them and asked them to vacate the office, shortly after which the premises were sealed.

Both district administration officials and police officers said they were not aware about the reason behind the sealing of the office, but said they had been told the organisation may have been involved in “anti-state activities”.

In a statement released to the media late on Thursday night, STC confirmed that its offices had been sealed. However, the statement contended that the organisation was not served any notice to this effect. According to the statement, STC has 1,200 staff members across the country and none of them are expatriates.

STC was one of over two dozen INGOs who were undergoing a government review to decide whether they would be allowed to operate in the country.

The organisation first gained notoriety in 2011, when it emerged that Dr Shakil Afridi, who is widely considered to be the man who confirmed Osama Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, had used the organisation as a cover for his activities.

A well-known development consultant told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the government was still suffering from the ‘OBL syndrome’. He admitted that there were many INGOs whose work the government wasn’t feeling comfortable with and wanted to clamp down on them.

However, he explained, there was a lot of confusion regarding what sort of control the government was looking to exercise.

Last week, Foreign Office Spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah had said, “Regarding media reports that Pakistan was closing down international NGO operations in Pakistan... there was no such move. A process to streamline the activities of INGOs is underway.”

He explained that an inter-ministerial committee had been constituted under PM’s Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi, which would make recommendations to improve the existing rules and procedures for screening, regulation and monitoring of INGOs to ensure transparency, efficiency and compliance with the new framework “in support of our national development goals, while ensuring respect for our culture, norms and security”.

However, in background conversations, officials from the interior ministry and EAD privy to the development told Dawn that the government was trying to reroute the way INGOs were funded.

“They have been categorically directed to agree with the government’s terms or pack up their operations and leave the country,” an official from the interior ministry said.

In all, over a dozen INGOs that are funded by various international donors, such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), have been formally conveyed the government’s wishes. Organisations that the government had flagged as “working against the mandate they have been granted in the MoUs stamped by the Economic Affairs Division” have also been warned, sources said.

An EAD official told Dawn that under the new arrangement, the government wanted international donors to put their funding at the government’s disposal, which in turn, would disperse it to local NGOs and implement projects of their choosing. However, he said, this was one area where international donors seemed unwilling to compromise.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2015

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