Civil society, NGOs abuse of donor funds not surprising

REPORTS that some non-governmental organisations and quasi-political civil society groups have been abusing funds supplied by Western donors for their activities are not surprising given that some of these organisations have made careers out of opposing the Government and being appendages of political parties.

Zimbabwe has been a playground for these groups which mushroomed at the turn of the millennium when the anti-Zimbabwe campaign gained traction as a result of the land reform programme. Most NGOs and civil society organisations were so embedded in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to the extent that their activities put them on a collision course with the Government as they were overstepping their mandate by meddling in politics which is not their forte. But because they were useful to their Western funders who were pursuing a regime change agenda, money continued to flow even when there were suspicions of gross abuse and embezzlement.

The United States this week sounded the alarm and confirmed that it had suspended funding some NGOs after they squandered funds and reported them to the United States Agency for International Development (UASID) office of the Inspector General. Organisations which embezzled the funds included Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Election Resource Centre (ERC) and Counselling Services Unit (CSU). All the three civil society organisations deal with political and governance issues.

US embassy acting public relations officer Mr John Taylor told our sister paper, The Herald, on Monday that diversion of funds was unacceptable. “We can confirm allegations of misuse of US funding by local Zimbabwean partners, and we referred the allegations to the USAID Office of the Inspector General (OIG),” he said.

“The OIG is an independent oversight office responsible for investigating such claims of possible fraud and other abuse or misconduct in USAID programmes. As a result of the initial investigation, USAID has terminated programmes with three partners and mandated corrective action on programmes implemented by two additional partners.

“The investigation remains open, and we cannot comment further on matters referred to the OIG.”

The project coordinators and managers allegedly diverted the funds to personal use, with some reportedly marrying more wives, buying luxurious cars and houses. Some coordinators are said to have completed building houses a few months ago. Mr Taylor added: “The United States remains committed to assisting the people of Zimbabwe, and invests millions of dollars each year to support a wide range of programmes to benefit them.

“Attempts to divert US funds from their intended use is unacceptable under any circumstances. USAID will continue to hold its partners to strict financial-accounting standards, and require regular audits to ensure the appropriate use of US government resources.”

The USAID poured more than $850 million into the NGO sector ahead of the last elections in 2013, before it dumped the civil society organisations after opposition parties lost resoundingly to Zanu-PF in 2013. It was also discovered that the so-called civil society organisations, most of them operating as affiliates of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, were supposed to conduct civic education using the money, but the donors discovered that no such programmes were undertaken.

Instead, the organisations were being accused of writing fake reports on the use of the money working in cahoots with some Zimbabweans at USAID, an arm of the US government tasked with disbursing the money. Investigations were instituted after some board members and the management committee of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition raised concern on how the funds released under the US democracy and governance were being abused by some directors and their friends.

The abuse of funds by the NGOs should jerk Western countries into realising that most of the allegations of political malfeasance and demonisation of Zimbabwe was being done for personal gain and aggrandisement by characters in civil society bent on lining their pockets and profiting from the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans. They should henceforth revisit all reports filed by these charlatans and fraudsters with a view to combing them for half-truths and outright lies which were spewed in pursuit of the US dollar.

In future, Western Governments should learn to deal with their hosts with mutual respect and as equal partners to foster trust and a cordial working relationship. President Mnangagwa is re-engaging the West and has made considerable headway in this regard.  In addition, most of the issues which civil society groups and the opposition have been clamouring for have been addressed. Clearly, the days of NGOs and quasi-political groups using the Zimbabwean story as their lifeline are numbered. July 30 will be their Waterloo and going forward, Zimbabwe will be a free country totally reintegrated into the community of nations.

The regime change agenda will be dead so will its Trojan Horses in civil society and opposition circles. Indeed, a new era beckons for Zimbabwe where its citizens will be preoccupied with economic development instead of the toxic issues around politics and governance. – Chronicle