Although the NGO sector has become increasingly professionalized over the last two decades, the principles of altruism and voluntarism remain its key defining characteristics. While in that respect, NGOs are meant to be politically independent, in reality that remains arduous, because NGOs receive funding from governments, institutions, businesses, and/or private sources. This may have a direct or indirect bearing on the NGOs decisions and actions. For example, donors may pressure development programs.
As a result, the use of activists may be enlisted to obtain certain projects, rather than those who extensively need the help. El Salvador believes that the heart of the issue surrounding the issues with NGOs is regulation and sustainability. Corruption exists in a variety of forms, but is universally defined as an abuse of public trust for personal gain. In some countries, government officials have set up their own NGOs as a way to work more creatively, access different resources, and gain new opportunities.
According to David Rieff, “By making various assumptions they conclude that donor agencies risk becoming creations of the outside, embodiments of external norms and goals, and materially dependent on outside rather than local sources.” Similarly, some development NGOs amount to no more than “briefcase companies” founded for the purpose of tax evasion and private gain. The large influx of external resources, the urgency of delivering relief, the breakdown of local institutions, and public services, all exacerbate risks of corruption in emergency situations. Criticisms range from pointing out that only small percentages go towards need, while the majority goes toward administration and high salaries. Due to the pressure of obtaining and maintaining funding, much effort is spent on marketing, while the constrained budget requires NGOs to ensure optimal efficiency.
Many international NGOs are currently focusing their work on economic development issues, but the resources devoted to El Salvador have been greatly reduced since the end of the civil war. Where human rights violations, such as extrajudicial murders and disappearances made headlines, the world is largely unaware of the country’s new insecurity. These international donors have pushed their new partners to adopt “professional” standards and become “self sustainable.” Nevertheless, development sometimes hinders self-sustainability. For example, many food aid groups, in non emergency situations, deliver food from rich countries for virtually nothing, thereby cutting local producers and negatively impacting the local economy.
At the onset, people may shift their consumption patterns from expensive food (such as meat) and luxuries (such as leather goods) to inferior goods. Over a prolonged time period, the new equilibrium values could make it impossible for the working class to buy enough staple products to survive. These external sources shift agricultural production to benefit the wealthy, instead of controlling and managing production for indigenous use.
It is El Salvador’s position that NGOs involvement can contribute to the sustainability and effectiveness of economic, political, and social development projects by introducing innovative approaches and promoting community participation. The main solution to this problem will come from increased l political and public awareness that allows people to call attention to their general needs. Increased individual democracy in developing countries would give the political leaders incentive to relieve local suffering and please the public, to avoid the effects of public criticism. Clear mechanisms should be established for responding to local needs, in attempt to avoid neocolonialism and privatization.
The UN should help expand NGO project uptake and reach, by facilitating greater awareness of diverse stakeholder views. The UN should devise a policy that forces NGOs to act in a manner that promotes the greatest public good, rather than a manner dictated by their donors. Thus, criteria should be established based on specific needs, and projects should be categorized by importance rather than success. Consequently, organizational capacity should be assessed according to the NGO’s proven track record, rather than its stated goals. In this manner, maximum transparency should be ensured by the UN to further uncover corruption, hindrance to development, regulations, and political schemes. El Salvador believes that it is imperative to seek government-NGO complementarily, while promoting an enabling environment for NGOs.