BONGOs

Bongos are a pair of small opened-bottom drums played with the hands. Its origin is Afro-Cuban. The beat of the bongos also helps define the unique sound of Cuban music — the son, salsa, and jazz.
But bongos have likewise served as an acronym for a particular type of non-governmental organization (NGO).

In the late 1980s or early 1990s, at a time that NGOs were mushrooming after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship and amid the expansion of the democratic space, Karina Constantino David coined several catchy acronyms to describe NGOs. The acronyms I remember are DJANGOs (for development, justice and advocacy NGOs), TANGOs (traditional NGOs, but not necessarily the counterpart of the demeaning TRAPOs or traditional politicians) and BONGOs.

The acronym BONGOs stands for business-organized NGOs. It carries a negative connotation — that of NGOs created and funded by the private sector to protect vested interests through unethical if not illegal practices. Thus, vested interests or moneyed interests use BONGOs as a means to avoid or evade taxes, promote products like tobacco that are legally subject to a promotion ban, serve as fronts for lobby and other forms of political interference, compete with other NGOs for funds, and the like.

In the West, I found out, the acronym BONGOs has a neutral meaning, standing for business-oriented NGOs.

In itself, nothing is wrong for a non-profit organization to be business-oriented. After all, many development NGOs are engaged in production and commerce as the means to raise the income and welfare of the marginalized. NGOs are called non-profits not because they are disallowed from having profits. The point is, whatever profit (or surplus) the NGO generates should not be assigned or distributed to the incorporators, officers, and members, but should be used for the NGO’s mission.

In the Philippines, NGOs have suffered a black eye because of the unscrupulous practices of some.

The acts of the minority have tainted the whole NGO community in the same way that the corruption of public officials has damaged the reputation of the whole government.

Stories abound about officers of NGOs embezzling the funds or how some NGOs conspire with government executives to bend rules in getting funds for their exclusive benefit but at the expense of the public.

So far, biggest scandal, exposed by whistle-blowers, is the so-called Janet Napoles scandal. The scandal involved billions of pesos of taxpayers’ money stolen by big politicians and their conspirators.

In this light, the acronym BONGOs can also mean bogus NGOs. The Napoles type of NGOs, the most egregious of the lot, is a business-driven, or business-oriented NGO. But it is worse for being criminal; it is a bogus NGO.

It goes without saying that BONGOs, the bogus type, also thrive in developed countries and in the international circuit of development work.

The presence of BONGOs is affecting even celebrated or renowned global institutions like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

But first, what is the EITI? EITI defines itself as a “global standard to promote open and accountable management of natural resources. It seeks to strengthen government and company systems, inform public debate, and enhance trust.”

The standard requires a member country to disclose information on tax payments, licenses, contracts, volume and value of production and other relevant information associated with the extraction of resources (mining, oil, and gas).

Each member country that implements the EITI requires the collaboration of government, the companies and civil society organizations or NGOs. The Philippines, happily, has become a model country for the EITI.

The EITI global leadership has acknowledged the excellence of the first country report that the Philippines submitted in December 2014. The Philippine stakeholders — consisting of representatives from government agencies; companies involved in mineral, gas, and oil extraction; and civil society — honestly state that the report is imperfect. But compared to other country reports, the first Philippine report is rich in information, providing more than what the standard requires.

The second report has been finalized, and the hope is that it will again gain the praise of the international governing body. The EITI will hold its global conference on 24-25 February 2016.

Given that the EITI can make or break the reputation of companies in the extractive industries, given that it can distinguish between the compliant companies and the misbehaving ones, it has become an arena for battle between the good and the bad. Hence, it is prone to being penetrated by BONGOs.

What can become a controversy in the forthcoming EITI global conference is the application of an obscure NGO based in the United Kingdom with a very thin if not dubious record on development work. The name of this NGO is Extractive Industry Civil Society (EICS) Limited.

Information about EICS is scarce. It was incorporated in 2015 as a private company limited by guarantee without share capital. Its sole director goes by the name of Eric Joyce. The founder is not a coalition of NGOs but Mr. Joyce himself. Governance, source of funding, membership, and membership criteria are unknown. Its program and strategy are unknown either.

A colleague has described Mr. Joyce’s NGO as a “one-man show,” based on the information above.

Out of curiosity, I searched the Web to know more about Mr. Joyce. And the first link to come out is a Wikipedia entry. Here are some lines from Wikipedia that describe the person.

• “Eric Stuart Joyce (born 13 October 1960) is a British politician and former military officer.”

• “He resigned from the army under threat of discharge in 1999 at the rank of Major after being found to have broken Queen’s Regulations.”

• “Joyce was suspended from the Labour Party in 2012 after he was arrested on suspicion of assault. He pleaded guilty, and on 12 March 2012 resigned from the party (but continued as an MP). In March 2013 he was once again arrested on suspicion of assault, but not prosecuted. Both incidents took place in a House of Commons bar and were related to alcohol. He was convicted of common assault on 1 May 2015.”

• “In October 2007 he claimed £180 for three oil paintings. When asked why he had used taxpayers’ funds in such a way he replied ‘because they look nice.’”

Enough said of Mr. Joyce and his BONGO.

The Philippine civil society stakeholders in particular will monitor how the EITI leadership and secretariat will act in dealing with BONGOs, which want to gain legitimacy. The EITI reputation is at stake.

Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.

www.aer.ph

This article was first posted on BusinessWorld last February 14, 2016
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