The high number of NGOs operating in the Maldives dependent on foreign aid may be setting back effective development in areas such as health and human rights, according to UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox.
At the launch of a new wave of UN joint funding, Cox told Minivan News that he believed current numbers of Maldivian NGOs “could not be sustained” with about 700 such organisations registered within the country.
Cox claimed that the funding unveiled today was being supplied in an attempt to steer future aid projects into specific areas of interest in the community where NGOs could effectively support and maintain themselves to benefit local people in the long-term.
A total of nine grants, which are jointly funded by the UN (UNDP) Development Project and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), were today unveiled as part of the first of three batches of funding to support projects by NGOs and civil society organisation (CSOs).
The projects, which range in budget and duration from four to eight months, are aimed at encompassing issues such as human rights, governance, rights-based developments and gender equality, according to the UNDP.
Although not related directly to this weekend’s council elections in terms of timing, Cox said that the focus of the local elections to transfer a strong amount of governing responsibility to islands and atolls away from Male’ tied into the grants’ intended purpose of steering country-wide developments.
“The point of today is we can see that civil society organisations and NGOs can play a major role in bringing meaning to this transfer of power from the centre to the local level. Obviously that is not going to happen on every island or even every atoll,” he said.
“But community organisations; working with some of the most disadvantaged and trying to give them poise is a key part of what local democracy is about. What I really want to see coming out of these grants and the ones which come along in the future is more of the same kind of thing.”
The list of beneficiaries of these grants includes:
• Take Care Addu; received US$20,514.98 to try empowering NGOs to protect and promote human rights on Seenu Atoll and Fuahmulah for seven months
• Maldivian Democracy Network; received 18,815 to monitor political violence for the first local council elections over four months
• Maldives Deaf Association – in collaboration with Care Society; 24,928 over eight months to help create awareness of the United Nation’s convention on rights of people with disabilities
• Raajje Foundation Maldives; US$20,980 on a six month project looking at civil society and democracy to be implemented in two atolls
• Maldives Civil Servants Association (MCA); provided US$21,151 for funding five month projects in Male’ and other atolls
• CHOCO; US$18,400 for six months development of a “masterplan” for Huvadhoo Atoll
• Lhohee Zuvaanunge Club; received US$15,347 for the raising of public awareness of local governance and empowering women in Noonu Atoll
• Billedhoo School Isdharivarunge Jammiyya; provided US$15,634 for protection of women’s rights and their role in political and social spheres for a four month project
• HIRIYA; US$14,340 for a four month project aiming to strengthen the role of women youth leaders
According to Cox, the projects, which were selected by the UNDP’s own Grants Gommittee were geographically focused to try and benefit as wide a group of people as possible.
In terms of monitoring the aid, Cox said that the grants committee had focused on trying to find key long-term areas that future funding could efficiently support in the country without depending on continued foreign aid.
“The applying organisations had to show that this is a way of not just blowing off some cash, but that this might strengthen things in the area they are focusing on,” he said. “We’ll have to see how it goes, but if we see some useful trends coming out of this we will try and steer the remainder of resources towards this.”
When asked whether potential suspicion from some people or groups over the motives of international bodies such as the UN and AusAID in supplying financial aid was a problem, Cox claimed that he had not heard of any such criticisms of the Society Development Project funding.
In addressing prominent concerns in supplying the funding, the UN Resident Coordinator said that ensuring long-term benefits from the aid packages was particularly important due to the high number of NGOs currently operating in the country, which he claimed could not be sustained on current national levels of financial resources.
“In the long run, especially in a country like the Maldives, you can’t have NGOs that are dependent on international funding because it won’t continue forever,” he said. “So the idea of projects like this, at least in theory, is that you can provide funding for very particular activities and you hope that the resources that provides allows for professionalization to help develop stronger management structures.”
One possible solution to concerns over an over dependency on foreign aid according to Cox could be the emergence of a number of “champion” or strong NGOs focusing on a number of “key issues” like reproductive health, drugs and human rights.
“One of the things we try and push NGOs to do – which can be a difficult sell – is to look to their own communities and the people who support them to find the reasons they exist and find ways that resources can be mobilised nationally and locally,” he said. “On a secondary level, you need a number of organisations to hold the government accountable, it happens in the UK, it happens in Sri Lanka and slowly it is happening here.”
In practice though, Cox said that such changes were beginning to be seen in the Maldives, but added that they would still take some time to develop.