The relationship between the government and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has never been comfortable in this part of the world. Some people tend to describe the relationship 'antagonistic'. But the antipathy is more or less one-sided. The government that wields almost unlimited powers has always shown its dislike for NGOs. But why is this antagonism?
The government has never given reply to this question. Nor it would admit publicly that it has any hard feeling towards NGOs. Yet people concerned do know that the government has a hostile attitude towards the NGOs notwithstanding the fact that the latter are very much dependent on the former's clearance to carry on with their operations.
A government is a mighty entity and its role in socio-economic development of a country is beyond any question. Yet others are also making some contributions, no matter how limited they are. In most developing and least developed countries, NGOs have been making significant contributions in the fields of health, education, nutrition, family planning, women empowerment and so on.
Bangladesh is also no exception. The world's largest NGO BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) and the Grameen Bank (GB), the institution that has pioneered microcredit are from this country. Prof. Muhammad Yunus, the founder of GB, has received the much-coveted Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to eradication of poverty using the microcredit programme.
The country has earned both laurels and praise for its achievements in the areas of human development. There should be no reason to ignore the great contributions the NGOs have made to human development over the past few decades. The bid to empower rural women, economically, might have proved elusive without microcredit operations.
There is no denying that the NGO movement in Bangladesh has lost its pace in recent years. NGOs are partly to blame themselves for it. Earlier, they had one national platform. Now they are divided, leading to erosion in their strength. Other major reason is that flow of funds from the developed and affluent countries has declined notably for a variety of reasons, including global economic slowdown and the government's lack of sympathy towards the NGOs.
But that should not have been the case. Bangladesh has done well in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS). And it would be unfair if the contributions of the NGOs in this respect are not duly recognised.
The country is now entrusted with the responsibility of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals are tougher than the MDGs, particularly that relating to poverty reduction. The country will have to eliminate fully the extreme poverty by 2030. The government would need cooperation of private sector and NGOs if it is really serious about its task.
That is why experts gathering at a workshop in Dhaka recently underscored the need for giving up the 'antagonistic' approach towards the NGOs by the government and developing a 'collaborative' relationship with them. Such relationship, they felt, might prove very helpful in achieving the SDGs. Experts who spoke at the workshop included a few noted economists. The government does need to listen to their advice and do the needful to work hand in hand with the NGOs as partners in progress.