Friday, May 20, 2022

NGO boom, for charity or profit?

While many are genuinely invested in helping the needy, others are seen as looking to make an easy buck.

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Questions have been raised about the mushrooming of NGOs throughout the country, with concerns that the rate at which such groups have grown could leave the door open for exploitation by those with vested interests.

Fears of this sort are compounded by the fact that the Registrar of Societies allows any NGO that raises funds to pocket up to 30% of the total collection.

Aliff Ahmad Ahmad Shariffuddin, co-founder of online database services provider SCRUT, said such flexibility made it very easy for NGOs to rake in a profit.

“This is why so many people are forming NGOs now,” Aliff told MalaysiaNow.

“It’s easy work. It’s not their money. People pay them to do good. They get money and they get to look good at the same time.”

The question for him is whether well-intentioned people would still be willing to donate to such groups knowing that only 70% of their contribution might end up channelled towards the cause at hand.

Aliff and SCRUT co-founder Nik Izwan Kamel are familiar with the issue, having prepared many inspection reports on NGOs and businesses including, most recently, the company of PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli.

Given the fact that none of this is illegal, Aliff said, many were “obsessed” with starting their own NGOs despite lacking a solid foundation of goals or agenda, not to speak of aims for community development.

“If you succeed in collecting RM100,000, you can use RM30,000 for administrative purposes. That’s how it works,” he said.

Two decades

The proliferation of activists and groups registering themselves as NGOs began some two decades ago, with the majority displaying an interest in charitable causes and campaigns on specific issues such as democracy.

According to the Registrar of Societies, there are currently 72,444 NGOs registered throughout the country.

There have even been joint ventures between NGOs and the government to monitor the policies put in place.

Others, however, do not appear to go beyond issuing media statements whenever a relevant issue crops up.

Activist William Cheah has spent years working with the urban poor. Cheah, of Kembara Kitchen, said the increase in the number of NGOs was a common trend, especially in the wake of the massive floods which hit the east coast in 2014.

After the floods which slammed Selangor in December last year, he said, the number of NGOs grew even more.

For him, this is not a problem as long as the groups in question have a main focus and work together to bring about good and help those who are truly in need.

“Otherwise, their efforts might clash, resulting in a waste of resources and conflict among the NGOs,” he told MalaysiaNow.

Even for matters of humanitarian and development assistance, though, problems of transparency often occur.

Misuse of NGOs

For all their stated intentions, some NGOs wind up in the limelight for the wrong reasons.

A case in point was welfare home Rumah Bonda, which made headlines after it was revealed that a young girl with Down syndrome known as Bella had been subject to physical abuse.

A police report lodged at the time said that children in the care of the social welfare department had been placed at the home even though it was unlicensed.

Rumah Bonda was founded by Puteri Umno member Siti Bainun Ahd Razali.

Well-known activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi, meanwhile, was an adviser. To this day, Syed Azmi is still receiving flak for remaining quiet over the issue.

The Rumah Bonda case meanwhile is ongoing at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

Similarly, those who contributed to a fund for a humanitarian mission to Gaza operated by popular religious speaker Ebit Lew last year questioned the outcome of their donations after it was revealed that they had not been used in Palestine.

Prominent activist Raja Shamri Raja Husin meanwhile said that pictures of him and his team helping those in need had been used by a third party to collect donations.

He said the third party turned out to be an NGO which spread the photos without permission along with its bank account number.

Raja Shamri fears that the presence of such groups will have a negative effect on the work of NGOs that truly wish to help the needy.

“That NGO was based in Putrajaya,” he told MalaysiaNow. “The pictures on the other hand showed my team and I helping villagers in the interior of Kelantan.”

Aliff said it often came as no surprise that the person behind a particular organisation lived a life of luxury and was even willing to quit his or her job to take care of the NGO on a full-time basis.

In such cases, he said, operation expenditure, salaries and other costs were already covered by donations or collections.

“Some of them are more traditional and collect donations from house to house,” he said.

“Then they take their commission of 30% and divide it as they see fit. They are paid to do what they like,” he added. “And they look good while they’re doing it.”

MalaysiaNow has contacted several NGOs and is awaiting their response.

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