Aid Workers, Nonprofits Tell State Dept. Why PVS is Wrong Approach

Printer-friendlyPrinter-friendly EmailEmail
Date: 
March 1, 2012

Aid workers have always faced risk working in global hot spots, but in comments filed with the State Department on Feb. 17, 2012, American aid workers and nonprofits explain why the proposed Partner Vetting System (PVS) would increase these dangers and hurt humanitarian efforts around the world.   If implemented, PVS would turn USAID grantees into investigators for U.S. intelligence agencies, violating NGOs' neutrality and endangering their workers. In September 2011, USAID and State presented parts of a proposed pilot program for NGOs in five countries.

Click here to read excerpts by American aid workers and nonprofits opposing PVS
from comments filed with State on Feb. 17, 2012

Having survived a suicide-bomber’s attack during an assignment in Islamabad, Pakistan,former UN World Food Programme (WFP ) worker Adam Motiwala can attest to the danger aid workers risk when the perceived neutrality of NGOs is lost.  On Oct 5, 2009, an explosion at the WFP office where he was stationed killed five people and hospitalizing four others, including Motiwala, who suffered injuries to his head, leg and stomach. Many believe the Islamabad office had been targeted for attack because of its associations with the Pakistani military establishment. “If aid groups and their employees are perceived to be part of the wider foreign policy agenda by their beneficiaries and local partners, as well as by militant groups in the area, the risk of violence increases and the assistance programs will not produce their desired results,” Motiwala writes in his comments.

Violence directed toward aid workers has spiked in recent years. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says “attacks against aid workers have increased sharply since 2006” and that “surges in attack rates were seen especially for NGO international (expatriate) staff and UN local contractors.” This increase in attacks on aid workers has left its mark. Some groups have withdrawn staff or ended its support for programs in places where this kind of politically motivated violence is more commonplace. The groups who remain often require the services of costly private security companies, leaving fewer resources for aid programs and their beneficiaries.
 
With little sign of this trend reversing anytime soon, safety has become a serious concern for all aid workers operating humanitarian programs in dangerous places. That is why most NGOs working in these places are steadfast in their efforts to retain their independence. “If the greater portion of international humanitarian aid organizations were able to achieve independence and project an image of neutrality,” ODI says, “this would surely enhance operational security and benefit humanitarian action as a whole.” 
 
That is why many American aid workers and nonprofit groups are voicing opposition to PVS.  Nora Lester Murad, an American activist living in the Middle East, said in her comments to State, polices like PVS:
 
“Dramatically undermine legitimate and peace-loving civil society in several ways. First, these procedures make it hard for good NGOs to get funds. Second, good groups that do get funds have their credibility undermined by their participation with such USAID requirements, which are widely seen as illegitimate and insulting. Third, they make it very expensive, slow and inefficient to work, thus undermining impact.”
 
Groups such as The Constitution Project and International Center for Not-for-Profit Law raised other serious concerns with the proposed PVS plan. These include a lack of specifics about the processes and controls to safeguard constitutional rights and values, including due process and privacy.
 
 
 
 
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL): “The purpose of PVS appears, in fact, to employ US nonprofits as quasi-intelligence sources to validate USG intelligence-derived lists and databases. This is on its face an inappropriate role for nonprofits which are working abroad to enhance the political, economic, and social environment and strengthen the rule of law in countries emerging from volatile and even hostile circumstances.”
 
InsideNGO: InsideNGO and its members have no interest in seeing U.S. Government resources purposefully or inadvertently provide support to entities or individuals that conduct or support terrorism. We also understand the harm that would be done to the U.S. Government’s foreign assistance program and to affected non-governmental organizations if that were to happen. However,. as we have stated here and elsewhere, we believe that [PVS] is not well conceived.”
 
The Constitution Project: “Given the lack of specifics in the Department’s filings it is unclear whether an applicant will receive adequate due process if his or her application is denied. To satisfy constitutional due process, an applicant who is denied access to the Department’s funds because of a match to a U.S. government database should (1) receive an explanation stating the reason for denial and (2) have a meaningful opportunity to challenge the findings of his or her presence in the database….. For a system to be fair, it must include a meaningful mechanism for redressing errors.”
 
Nora Lester Murad:  “It is my experience, without exception, that complicated and unrealistic procedures like the PVS have NO effect on terrorism or potential terrorism.”
 
Adam Motiwala: “Cultivating meaningful relations with local actors and communities remains the best approach to security. That is what PVS fails to get right. Vetting employees of NGOs and local partner organizations against secret government lists undermines the fundamental principles of neutrality and trust upon which NGOs rely to protect the safety of their staff working in dangerous places.”
 
Mark Slezak, (worked for International Organization of Migration (IOM), Church World Service (CWS), and WFP: “The United States has a long proud tradition of providing humanitarian need. Let’s not compromise this legacy with unnecessary security precautions that are unlikely to have an impact on aid diversion to terrorist elements.”
 
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL): “PVS to be ill-conceived as presently structured, and we urge that DOS and USAID undertake an open and thorough consultative process with the nonprofit sector to ensure that any further vetting process be effective and accurate and that the nonprofit sector is and is viewed as “nongovernmental” in its essence and in practice.”