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Senate panel recommends allowing INGOs to operate

Updated November 06, 2018

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Several INGOs operating in Pakistan have been ordered to shut down. — Photo/File
Several INGOs operating in Pakistan have been ordered to shut down. — Photo/File

ISLAMABAD: The Senate functional committee on human rights on Monday recommended allowing international non-government organisations (INGOs) to work as, in the light of a Supreme Court verdict, the interior ministry was not authorised to ban or stop them from working.

“The 2016 apex court verdict clearly says that only the government, which is the federal cabinet, can take decisions, but in this case without seeking approval from the cabinet it was decided that the controlling authority of INGOs would be the interior ministry rather than the Economic Affairs Division. The interior ministry cannot be controlling authority unless the federal government decides about it,” said Senate committee’s chairman Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who belongs to the Pakistan Peoples Party.

“Moreover it was unfair that the INGOs were not informed about the reason for which they were stopped from working. That decision not only triggered criticism but also allowed foreign envoys to write a letter to the prime minister asking him why INGOs were not informed about their unlawful activities,” he said.

Shireen Mazari says by writing to the prime minister foreign envoys overstepped their limits

On Oct 29, the Senate committee took notice of banning of INGOs and directed the interior secretary to brief it on Nov 5. The notice was taken after criticism on social media and circulation of a joint letter of foreign envoys which requested the prime minister to look into the matter.

Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari said that by writing the letter to the PM foreign envoys overstepped in Pakistan’s mandate.

“They cannot force Pakistan to change the rules. A number of Muslim INGOs are not allowed to work in Europe. In Pakistan, INGOs are given the right of appeal, but Pakistanis, who try to get work permit in the West, are not granted this right. Moreover, some German INGOs were not doing social work and had political agenda as they were attached with German political parties. Some INGOs were doing mapping in Pakistan and they entered in security domain,” she said.

“However, I agree that INGOs should have been told the reason why they were stopped from functioning because if that was done the issue would not have blown up,” Dr Mazari said.

Earlier, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Interior Mohammad Siddique informed the committee that it was a four-year-old issue and needed to be linked with the war on terror and incidents of terrorism in the country.

“Policy for INGOs was revised in 2015 and earlier this sector was unregulated. Some INGOs were working beyond their mandate so we limited them to socio-economic development. Applications of all INGOs were examined by a body which has representation of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior, the Intelligence Bureau, Inter-Services Intelligence, etc. Applications of 74 INGOs were approved and 27 were rejected,” he said.

“Nine INGOs decided to leave the country, but 18 filed appeals. All of them were given an opportunity of personal hearing and after that some applications were rejected. They have been directed to wind up their operations within two months and leave the country. They can again apply after six months but they would be limited to issues such as clean drinking water, education, health, etc. In the past, they were holding debates on homosexuality, etc,” Mr Siddique said.

“It has been decided that the German INGOs would be handled by the ministry of foreign affairs. We are not against any country as INGOs, which have been stopped from working, belong to different countries including Japan and the US,” he said.

Representative of an INGO Khurram Hashmi said that during a number of meetings he was never told about any illegal practice.

“We provided all the documents demanded by the body, but 18 INGOs were directed to stop operations on the same date. Now we are being told to apply again after six months. INGOs would not return if they were directed to leave the country. A large number of people are losing jobs,” he said.

Another representative of an INGO Saba Gul Khattak asked how organisations could change their programme if they were not told about their flaws.

The committee directed the interior ministry to share the reasons with INGOs for which they were directed to stop operations.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2018

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