YANGON, 1 March 2011 - The international community should make
better use of local NGOs and community-based organizations in Myanmar,
while at the same time building capacity among them, aid officials say.
"Local NGOs... have local knowledge, contacts and they don't have to
worry about getting permission on planning and resources from a central
head office. They also have little problem accessing different parts of
the country," said Walter Davis, programme manager for Paung Ku, a
consortium of 11 international and local organizations established in
2007 to strengthen civil society in Myanmar.
But as things stand, most donors continue to funnel money through
international NGOs (INGOs), which at times compete with local groups.
"INGOs need to change to do more capacity building. The rules of
engagement still see local NGOs as subcontractors because their capacity
is weaker," said Aung Tun Thet, a senior adviser to the UN Resident
Coordinator in Myanmar.
"INGOs need to decide whether they are in direct competition with
[local organizations] or whether they are here to mentor local NGOs," he
Cyclone Nargis in 2008 spawned hundreds of civil society
organizations to cope with the humanitarian crisis that killed a
reported 140,000 and affected another 2.4 million, by UN estimates.
"Nargis was a catalytic push for the mushrooming of local NGOs.
There were 50 times as many NGOs as before," said Aung Tun Thet.
"Faced with the magnitude of Cyclone Nargis, donors needed to find a
way to give money and not go through the government - the elephant in
the room," he added.
Local groups were a natural funding vehicle as they reacted most quickly when the tidal surge hit.
But when the government declared an end to the tsunami's emergency
phase in 2010, many of these same NGOs collapsed or turned to
development activities - often lacking basic capacity to carry out the
"With such rapid evolution [of NGOs activated by Cyclone Nargis],
the rigor required of NGOs did not accompany this expansion. These
groups have good intentions but lack basic rudimentary management
skills," said Aung Tun Thet.
Too often, local groups have been recruited and supported to serve
the project needs of INGOs, but not beyond, said Ingeborg Moa, Myanmar
director of Norwegian People's Aid, which has supported dozens of local
groups since 2004.
"If more funding could be [made] available for organizational
development, capacity building and support for initiatives that aim to
strengthen local organizations' overall capacities, not just their
capacity to 'deliver services' as implementing partners of international
organizations, this would be a big step in the right direction," said
Focusing on so-called shortcomings in local accounting and
management systems may be misguided, according to a December report by
Paung Ku, which includes Save the Children, Oxfam and CARE, as well as
Receipts, for example, are often difficult to obtain in Myanmar,
leaving many organizations unable by international standards to account
for resources and unable to qualify for international funds, Davis said.
"Myanmar has a long history of using accountability mechanisms
related to religious donations, with Buddhist monks playing a key check
and balance role. Strengthening these existing frameworks may ultimately
be more effective in building accountability than continuing to use
imported concepts," said Davis.
A cumbersome government NGO registration process is an additional obstacle for local groups to tap international funds.
"The government would not allow any group without a [memorandum of
understanding] to accept donor funds. What is needed is a more
transparent registration process," said Aung Tun Thet.
An official at the local relief NGO, Aung Yadanar, based in the town
of Pyapon in southern Myanmar, said he applied for registration soon
after he co-founded the NGO in 2008 - but has yet to receive any news.
"In the meanwhile, we have to keep [a] good relationship with township authorities so that we can do our job."
Even without being formally registered, the group still receives
funding from the UK Department for International Development, which also
provides technical assistance along with the Ministry of Agriculture.
There are an estimated 300 NGOs working in Myanmar, of which a
maximum 10 percent are registered, according to the UN Myanmar
Information Management Unit (MIMU