|Will Robertson, programme manager for Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), addresses a press conference in Nairobi recently on the the ongoing clashes in South Sudan. MSF has been given 12 days to submit its audited financial statements or be struck off the register. [Photo:File]|
NAIROBI: At the stroke of a pen, hundreds of Kenyans are set to be jobless after 525 not-for-profit organisations officially became illegal after being struck off the register and their accounts frozen.
Of the number, 15are accused of financing and facilitating terrorist groups, although they have not been listed in the report because the NGO Co-ordination Board Executive Director Fazul MahamedYusuf said it would compromise investigations still under way.
"Investigations by local and international intelligence agencies have linked the 15 NGOs to criminal activities including terrorism. The investigations are being finalised and the people behind them will be prosecuted soon," said Mahamed Tuesday.
The freezing of their accounts means that they cannot carry out financial transactions, including paying their staff.
But it is the calibre of some of the agencies struck off the NGOs' register that has shocked many because they also operate across borders doing critical relief work, with some running budgets as high as Sh500 million.
A separate list of 12 has some well known not-for-profit organisations that have been given just 12 days to submit their audited financial statements or be struck off the register.
They include Medecins Sans Frontiers, Technoserve Kenya, Concern Worldwide, Adventist Development and Relief Agency International and Centre for Health Solutions Kenya. Others are FH Association, LVCT Health, Veterinaires Sans Frontiers Belgium and Water for Life.
It ends over a year of threats by the State to crack down on NGOs for allegedly misappropriating funds, financing terror, and supporting sections of civil society that are critical of the Jubilee government.
The shock in the NGO community Tuesday was total and devastating, as the move is effectively a ban since it makes their activities illegal until they comply with the legal requirements for registration.
The first to lose their jobs will be expatriates attached to the affected not-for-profit agencies after their work permits were cancelled, rendering them undesirable aliens.
Mahamed said that many of them were issued with work permits without reference to, or recommendation by the Board.
"All NGOs with expatriate staff are advised to come to the Board's offices to ascertain and update the work permit records of their employees. Only the expatriates whose skills are not available in Kenya will be allowed to stay," he said.
Mahamed said the Board was in the process of repossessing the assets of the affected NGOs to redistribute them to others pursuing similar projects.
"If the NGOs seek to be registered again, they will be taken through a thorough vetting process to ensure that their funds are accountable and their activities are above board," he said.
Some of the axed NGOs run major projects in education, health and agriculture and the full impact of their closure on ordinary Kenyans is expected to become fully clear in the coming days.
The harsh action came shortly after Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria announced that he was tabling a private member's bill to set a limit on the amount of funds NGOs can receive from foreign donors.
According to the NGO Co-ordination Board, 510 agencies were axed for failing to file their annual audited accounts as required by law while the other 15 are suspected of having links with terrorism and money laundering.
There are about 3,000 NGOs registered and operating in the country.
But Mahamed said that the Government was not at war with NGOs.
"The Government is not fighting NGOs since we recognise the crucial role they play in supplementing the government in providing crucial social services. We only seek to weed out those that are engaging in illegal activities or are failing to comply with the law. NGOs are vulnerable to abuse as conduits of terrorism financing and money laundering. The Board warns NGOs that decisive action will be taken against them if they engage in criminal activities," he said.
Mahamed said the 510 NGOs failed to respond to requests to furnish the board with their audited accounts and annual reports as required by law.
"We also call upon other NGOs that have not filed their audited accounts to do so within 21 days to avoid decisive action being taken against them in line with law, " he warned.
"We would like to see more order in the NGO sectors so that Kenyans can benefit from the billions of shillings that donors generously contribute on their behalf," he said.
"Some NGOs even receive more than a billion shillings every year from their donors, but they have never filed any returns with us to account for the funds," said Fazul.
According to the NGO Coordination Regulations of 1992, NGOs are required to file the annual reports and audited accounts with the Board.
Mahamed asked donors to monitor the NGOs they fund to ensure that the money is used for the intended purpose.
"The Board thanks all NGO donors that have worked with us to ensure the funds they donate to NGOs are used for intended charitable purposes. However, we put on notice donors who do not demand accountability from the NGOs they fund," he said.