BONGOs, GONGOs, BINGOs and QuaNGOs: The Brazilian Senate Looks at the Books


“How much is that one, or do they sell it by the pound?” Sergio Bianchi’s searing black comedy revolves around a case of money-laundering through a “bridging the digital divide” IT charity.
See my post Consciência.org. Pictured: the Cinelerra editing suite. Click to zoom.

Time will tell whether the emergence of the quasi government is to be viewed as a symptom of decline in our democratic government, or a harbinger of a new, creative management era where the purportedly artificial barriers between the governmental and private sectors are breached as a matter of principle. — Kevin R. Kosar, “The Quasi Government: Hybrid Organizations with Both Government and Private Sector Legal Characteristics” (Congressional Research Service, February 13, 2007)

Relação indecorosa (“Unseemly relations”): CartaCapital magazine (Brazil) got around to one of the more interesting topics on the agenda here, namely, the so-called CPI of the NGOs — an investigative commission in the Senate on so-called OSCIPs, or “public-interest non-profit civil-society organizations,” that get public money to run, for example, social programs.

You read about quite a few cases of such organizations being used as tools for governance arbitrage — Blackwater is not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice or Iraqi law, analogous to that sort of thing — and money laundering fronts, and GONGOs, and just plain Abramoffery in general

Even so, I tend to think that the melodramatic proposition set forth by Mr. Kosar of the CSR is a false dichotomy.

The more interesting question is whether well-governed relationships between government and the private sector can be constructed without harming democratic principles such as accountability and public control. There are plenty of examples in operation to be studied: Public concessions, for example, where cases of greater and lesser success in this respect can be cited and analyzed.

At the other extreme: Blackwater.

The general line taken by Phydia de Athayde and Rodrigo Martins is that the usual situation is likely to obtain here in Brazil: scandal-oriented posturing with an eye to ‘moral panic”-driven campaigning, rather than an analysis of needed legislation.

In other words, “Let’s string somebody up, whether there is a law or not!” rather than “There really ought to be a law, so let’s write one.”

The principal example they give:

A base aliada ameaça investigar o Alfabetização Solidária, programa fundado pela ex-primeira-dama Ruth Cardoso e que desde 1999 recebeu 289 milhões de reais. A oposição contra-atacou com apurações a respeito da suposta ligação de Lurian, a filha de Lula, com a ONG Rede 13, extinta em 2003 e que teria recebido 7,5 milhões de reais do governo federal. Um acordo teria sepultado ambas as investigações.

The government base threatened to investigate [Solidarity in Literacy Education], a program founded by former First Lady Ruth Cardoso which since 1999 has received R$289 million [in public funding]. The opposition counterattacked with investigations into the alleged relationship of Lurian, daughter of Lula, with the NGO [Network 13], which ceased to exist in 2003 and allegedly received R$7.5 million from the federal government. An accord reportedly buried both probes.

Reported by whom?

This is the sort of thing that tends to get referred to as “pizza,” as in “in the end, nothing was revealed, and the opposing sides went out for pizza together.”

See also

The relator of the inquiry, Arruda (PCdoB-Ceará) has tried to avoid having the commission evolve into a three-ring circus. “There is always that desire, but it harms the investigation and does not contribute anything to society,” he said. “The ‘third sector’ has been called upon to occupy a space that once belonged to the State, and in part has done this well. Our principal aim is to examine the financial controls [over resources allocated to this sector], and propose legislation that would be rigorous, but not restrictive,” he says.

One of the most interesting features of the cover package was an interview with the young director of ABONG, the Association of Brazuco-NGOs. Let me English an excerpt, transcribing from my newsstand copy, since it is not available online.

(I would gladly pay for an online subscription, by the way. I wanted to to pick up the latest edition of CC today, for example. But it was raining like the very dickens.)

Despite its name, ABONG has only 270 members, representing less than 0.1% of the 276,000 non-governmental organizations in Brazil. This is because the association applies strict criteria to potential members. “In our view, an NGO is an organization involved in a struggle to realize rights,” explains Tatiana Dahmer, one of the association’s executive directors. …

CC: Why is there so much confusion over the definition of an NGO?

Tatiana: There is a general lack of understanding on this issue. NGO, in truth, is a political term. In the nonprofit niche there may exist foundations or associations (religious or not). One attempt to define the concept resulted in the designation “Public-Interest Civil Society Organizations” (OSCIPs), which are different than NGOs in that they permit salaries to be paid to their directors. But all the legislation on this subject is old and contradictory, while a number of bills on the subject have never come up for a vote.

CC: The current situation, with millions of [bucks] being passed to such groups without controls, is a product of the growth of the “third sector.” How did this come about?

TD: The whole debate on the “third sector” comes from an American liberal bias, based on the notion of the “minimal state.” ABONG was formed in 1990 to construct the identity of the non-governmental sector. In our conception, NGOs are not charities or social marketing agencies, they do not need to assume the role of the state. We defend, for example, that the National Cancer Institute be able to care for children without depending on the Ronald McDonald Foundation.

Down with the clown!

In ABONG’s view, NGOs are civil associations involved in the struggle for rights.

CC: Where does the lack of control over public money come in?

TD: There is this identity crisis over what NGOs are, and the problem of misuse of the term. There is the problem of bad faith. This is a huge universe of organizations, and for that reason you cannot generalize. Just imagine: There are at least nine ways of allocating money to civil society, and all of them can be defrauded.

CC: How should the State related to NGOs?

TD: NGOs do not need to execute public policy. If the State has problems, it might use an NGO as a model for public policy, rather than simply washing its hands of the problem and handing it off to an NGO. ABONG wants to see public policy deliberations work. There is an important debate over the model of development that ought to be adopted. The crux of the problem is the failure to discuss how public funds are to be distributed.

CC: What to expect from the CPI of the NGOs?

TD: The charges have to be looked into. But we need to recognize a difference between irregularities arising from bad faith and those that arise from excessive bureaucratization and regional pecularities, such as, for example, that a boatman in the rainforest is lacking a CNPJ [an environmental permit]. Currently, only NGOs with an ample accounting structure can get public funds. It is important that a regulation be constructed to deal with organizations of different types and sizes. And it is essential not to criminalize NGOs. The regulation should deal with public money, not with the constitution right to civil society to organize.

A proposed law designating some civil organizations as “terrorist groups” was recently put out of its misery in the lower house, as CC reports in an article entitled “Stedile [of the MST] is not Bin Laden.”

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