By LIM SUE GOAN
Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily
Non-governmental organisations (NGO) are intermediaries promoting democracy and civil society and thus, sometimes they are in conflict with the government.
NGOs can educate the public about many issues, such as when the people lack the knowledge about environmental protection, they hold seminars and distribute leaflets to raise the people's awareness of it.
Vulnerable groups of the society also need the assistance of NGOs, including counseling, job searching and assistance applications. Some NGOs also defend human rights, women's right, legal rights or initiate various charity work, collecting forces in the society.
Many things are beyond the reach of the government or face the problem of lack resources, and thus, NGOs play a supporting role of helping the government to educate the people. With the efforts of a large number of social workers, a strong civil society playing the role of supervising the public authority can be built slowly.
Therefore, governments of democratic countries appreciate and recognise the contribution made by NGOs. This enables NGOs to stay active. For example, there are about 1.5 million NGOs in the US and their funds come from grants of the federal, state or local governments. Laws of the US do not prohibit NGOs from receiving funds from foreign countries, regardless of whether it is from a government or non-government organisation.
In non-democratic countries, however, NGOs always face with various constraints. Such as NGOs in China, they are required to provide a notarised copy of funding agreement to receive a foreign donation. And if they receive US$150,000 or above of foreign fund, they must first get a permission from the authority. Some organisations also said that they have long been annoyed by tax investigation officers. In addition, according to the Russian NGO Law, NGOs engaging in political activities that receive foreign funds will be regarded as "foreign agents" and should receive a mandatory investigation.
Back to the allegations that Suaram has been receiving funds from an American organisation linked to currency speculator George Soros, not only the German Ambassador to Malaysia is summoned, but the Registrar of Societies (RoS) also conducts a joint investigation with five government agencies.
The authorities might not be happy with Suaram for exposing the Scorpene submarine scandal or receiving funds from currency speculator George Soros. However, they should at least tell Suaram about under which provision it is being investigated. Is there a law prohibiting NGOs from receiving foreign funds? Anti-Money Laundering Act should be used against criminals, not civil society organisations.
Moreover, in addition to Suaram, there are many organisations registered as private limited companies instead of NGOs. The authority should clarify why it is difficult for civil society organisations to be registered as NGOs.
As for the scandal exposed by Suaram, the government can address it transparently. Making public the details of the Defence Ministry's military procurement can stop the alternative coalition from playing up the issue while proving to the public that no fraud is involved in military procurement.
To become an advanced state, the government must first learn how to get along with NGOs. It must convince them, instead of suppress them.
Attacking NGOs will harm the government's credibility. If it is appropriately handled, NGOs can also become friends of the government.