When the do-good groups go bad

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday June 26th, 2013

 IN the centre of a good thing, there is sometimes a malignant growth that feeds on the goodness around it.

This cancerous growth, if left undisturbed, can grow too big and overwhelm the entire being, eventually killing it.

We see today a similarity between this analogy and the activities of two particular groups in the country – churches and non-governmental organisations, more commonly known as NGOs.

Churches and NGOs are in Papua New Guinea to do good, and most do.

The mainstream churches, which are represented on the Melanesian Council of Churches and similar organisations as well as established NGOs are providing crucial services in areas where there is no government activity.

They provide essential services particularly in the vital areas of education and healthcare. 

Many undertake water and sanitation programmes and promote human rights, conservation and environmental awareness and protection.

The gratitude of our people must go to these groups.

But then, there is a crop of fringe groups who are riding on the good reputation of both the churches and NGOs for interests that are entirely their own and not that of the people.

The operations of these groups, both of local and international origin, can best be described as fly-by-night rackets.

Church congregations sprout around one or two charismatic individuals who seem to harp on tithes and contributions to God’s cause as their main activity. 

They spread poison about the activities of the established churches in the hope of stealing some of their flock away from them. 

These groups are most aggressive and go off posting sugar letters and applications for land and funding – all in the name of God, of course.

In the end when these contributions are made, they result in making a select few very rich. 

Many NGOs are no better.

They go off to donor organisations and the government with similar sugar-tinged letters and proposals and when the assistance arrives, they are often put to their own use.

Some groups are extremely gender-biased or biased against nationals in their dealings to the point of even having discriminatory pay structures separating expatriates and nationals. 

It is hard to tell if these groups are here to help PNG to develop.

In the end, these groups must be exposed for what they are – organisations ostensibly professing to do good while actually out to promote some selfish interests.

It is important that the Government registers all churches and NGOs opera­ting in the country. 

They must record the services they provide and where they are represented.

Certain minimum criteria ought to be spelt out which must be met before any organisation can be registered.

Those which do not meet the criteria cannot be registered and therefore cannot operate within PNG.

If certain registered ones are found to be operating outside the guidelines, they too should be disbanded and sent packing.

We might be attacked for making this suggestion, especially where religious activities are concerned as this goes against freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Constitution. 

To this we argue that nobody is stopping religious freedom.

But as the Constitution itself directs, freedom must come with responsibilities.

Among the criteria must be one that calls for all these organisations to produce accounts for all funds raised publicly.

They must name their staff and areas of operations and localisation programmes.

The Government raises money publicly and is expected to account for its spending. 

The principle is the same.

There is no reason for other organisations to expect different treatment.

At the end of the day everything done by these groups are aimed at producing a better PNG. 

If that is not their primary purpose, they are not welcome.