The Malta Independent 21 May 2019, Tuesday

NGOs: Nowhere to be seen!

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 20 February 2019, 08:03 Last update: about 4 months ago

I can already imagine the party apologists getting their knickers in a twist but then again, this country remains anal retentive.  So, in other words whilst I appreciate every Governments’ effort and dedication to the social sector, there is a dimension of welfare that is going to the dogs, and that is the NGO sector. 

They are nowhere to be seen!

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For example, if we really had an adequate NGO sector on ‘environmental related issues’ we would have the preservationists, conservationists and the ‘greens’ out in the streets 24x7, advocating for the cause with all the mayhem there is at the moment. 

To give another example, if the disabled persons’ movement was truly vigorous and energised they would be all over the place with the increasingly inaccessible physical environment they still have to endure, the non-stop building sites that are making access unbearable, the discrimination that they still experience at their places of work and the lack of post-compulsory education opportunities to name just a few issues that are far from resolved.

Need I go on?

NGOs are silent (or maybe silenced) and practically non-existent.

I am referring to organisations that are not only keen on generating money and signing multi-million service agreements or engaging with projects that the State should be taking care of itself.  I am talking about the good old NGOs that meet around a small table with unbalanced legs (and not sitting around a mahogany dining table) and with chairs that do not match, in a room full of black mould with lighting coming from a bozza tal-erbghin. 

I am talking about the NGOs that are genuinely focused on the ‘cause’, believe in it and work tirelessly to bring it to the fore even if they must pay the price. 

I am talking of NGOs that are not just single-minded on balancing the books or engrossed in taking in the funds or who just want to partner with the State, as if their existence is now reliant on KPIs, objectives, performance indicators and all the rest as determined by the bureaucrats.

Our civil society needs to wake up from its comatose state because all or at least most of our NGOs are numb and frozen and this is a serious setback.  We now have NGOs that are completely dependent on the State or the EU funds making their perpetuation completely, or almost dependent on them.  It is no longer about what these organisations believe in but on the fact that they are commissioned by the State and EU to do what the former want of them.

I am calling for the resurgence of our NGO sector.  I am not speaking about legislation and infrastructure, there we have improved in leaps and bounds.  What I am advocating for is that they return to the basics, to stand up to what they believe in without fear or trepidation.  They should show character.  Values founded on subsidiarity, grassroots power and improvisation should be at the core of their operations.

NGOs should be the ones who speak unconditionally.  They should be talking about the ‘cause’ that is being ignored by everyone else but them.  They are the ones that should stand up to a society that is losing its moral compass.  They should be talking about inclusion, migrant rights, rights of those without a voice, people with mental health problems, disabled persons and people who are at the bottom of the heap.  They should be less busy with report writing and matching accounts and more intent on the core business that is, that of being a voice to the voiceless.  The NGO sector in its fundamentals is about being independent of all potential influencers.  NGOs should rely on a variety of funding options.  Let’s admit that in these last 30 years Governments have literally wiped out most of the expertise that lies in NGOs, the environmental sector, the disability field, the LGBTIQ sector and many others. 

I want to believe this was not intended to harm and weaken NGOs. 

I trust that absorbing these people in State funded organisations was envisioned to maximise the resources in those respective sectors and not blank out the activists from potential activism.  I doubt whether the Government or its authorities/entities should be funding pressure groups in the first place.  This risks sounding like the buying of silence and it takes a great deal of integrity to stand up to it. 

NGOs if you had to ask me are in dire straits.  They lack media coverage for their projects, there seems to be a drop-in commitment (and here I’m not just speaking membership), there is the endemic problem we have in Malta and Gozo of having a silo mentality and a reluctance to cooperate with each other.  Grants and service agreements, PPPs and PSPs have taken over our human service agencies ability to be entrepreneurial and make up the funds themselves. NGOs are at the foundation of a healthy and democratic society.  They represent the ‘intellectual capital’ of a community and it is indispensable in creating long-term success.

We need our NGOs back.  It serves the State in an incredibly important way if our NGOs can be given a lease of life, are permitted to do what they know how to do best, use their instinct’s and gut feelings, pursue an objective with determination and resolve.  NGOs are to stay away from the temptation that doing great things needs big money.  Wrong.  Doing grand projects is about having a big heart, pursing an objective with force.  ‘The powers that be’ are now capable of using politically correct language which might not necessarily reflect their own thinking – but do manage to say it in the right way!

NGOs, stand up, be counted, we need you!  You are our bastion against the ills of our society.  In contrast to the neo-liberal f*&ck you Jack, I'm alright mind-set that is creeping into our communities and turning our country in an endless list of individuals, NGOs remain the best placed to save us and get us back on track. 

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