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The Misinterpretation: Microfinance, NGOs And Neoliberalism In Bangladesh - Part 3: NGOs

By Farooque Chowdhury

05 September, 2015

The article NMN says “Initially, NGOs started working with a clear commitment to address social issues like inequality, lack of healthcare, and mobilizing the poor to stand against exploitation, deprivation, and the dominant power structure.” Addressing social issues on the part of NGOs was and is only a public relations-credibility-acceptability-gaining job, not a clear commitment. A commitment would have prompted at least a part of these organizations to at least some sort of theoretical program; at least a few of these would have raised issues of class, class contradictions, source of poverty; at least a few of these organizations would have tried to politicize the poor with politics of the poor, and would have led these organizations to some other shape.

There are instances of a group of NGOs began organizing a part of the poor in Bangladesh; but that initiative was targeted to fill in the space a part of the left camp discarded. Its aim was to take away initiatives from the anti-imperialist, progressive forces.

Initially, all the NGOs were external and big with clear mandate: serve the status quo. These NGOs craftily avoided essential questions related to poverty, the root of poverty and inequality, etc. although a few of these raised a few issues related to poor within the framework of status quo. These organizations clearly avoided ideological and political questions related to poor classes; and these organizations not only avoided those questions, they encouraged the poor under their influence to avoid those. A part of these initial external NGOs later floated local NGOs, which followed the same path. These developments, with no “clear commitment to address social issues like inequality,” etc. should be specifically identified. Otherwise, misperception will gather, which may lead to somewhere else.

The article NMN says “most of them [NGOs] retreated from their initial promises and concentrated mainly on microcredit operations. This happened because of legal bindings by the state on NGOs, the risk of antagonizing powerful actors, and the conditions of donor funding.”

What happened to the rest that did not “retreated from their initial promises”? Is this logical that “because of legal bindings, etc.” there was their retreat? Does fact support this observation? In one way, here to shorten statement, this is a failure to perceive NGOs, their origin, mandate, etc., and a failure to have a deeper look into the history of these organizations in Bangladesh.

One of the acts performed by these organizations is: usurp political role of political parties with the motive of securing status quo, de-sharpen class struggle, depoliticize people. And, this is their initial promise. A minor part of these NGOs’ acts was to recruit former left political activists, which had a major role at different areas. Aren’t there evidences of these NGO-acts in Bangladesh?

The article NMN says: “The formation of the ‘corporate NGO’ is certainly a new phenomenon, not only in the NGO sector, but also in the corporate world, resulting in a new form of private ownership and monopolization/oligopolization of certain business areas.”

It’s not a new phenomenon; it’s a “natural” growth; and it’s not “corporate”, although it appears “corporate” or it’s business/manufacturing/processing enterprise, not NGO. “[A] new form of private ownership and monopolization/oligopolization”, as the article NMN claims, is a serious “finding”. What’s that “new” form of private ownership?

Ownership, to be short, is connected to means of production, relations between social classes, nature of social system, changes in socio-economic situation, etc. What new forms of these – means …, relations …, nature …, situation … – have emerged? Either these are to be identified or a new definition of ownership has to be formed. There are other fundamental questions related to the NMN’s claim of new form of private ownership, etc. that are not discussed in this essay. Similarly, questions with deeper meaning emerge related to the statement: new phenomenon “in the corporate world”.

Impact of “reforms”

Regarding Bangladesh the article NMN also makes a few wrong observations. The article identifies dismantling of public enterprises, establishment of export processing zones (EPZs), emergence of garments industries, Rana Plaza collapse, etc. as impact of World Bank-IMF induced/imposed reforms.

These are not impacts.

The dismantling business is part of the so-called reform program while the “dismantling” impacted people, to be specific, the workers of those industries, which were not always dismantled, most of which were sold out at throw away prices.

Establishment of EPZs is part of a program, not an impact. The EPZ impacts people/workers/broader society, and appropriation of surplus value.

Rana Plaza-murder is, in short, part of greed-unlimited; it’s neither part of the reforms nor impact as the article NMN mentions. Capitalism created and is creating many Rana Plazas in its centuries-long life in countries, even long before the rise of neoliberalism and “invention” of so-called structural adjustment program. There were dozens of Rana Plazas in the UK and USA, especially in mines in those countries. The history of labor is full with Rana Plaza like incidents, not accidents, many of which were before the WB and IMF were created.

The same with the, as the article NMN says, “[p]ermanent jobs … replaced by … temporary, part-time, outsourced, and insecure work”, remittance turning out as the biggest source of foreign exchange earnings, “huge outflow of resources through the transfer pricing and profit outflow by foreign companies, and transfer of accumulated wealth by local business groups, legally and illegally,” labor export, “feminization of the working class”.

These are, to shorten my statement, part of capitalist process, not impact of the WB-IMF designed reforms cited in the article. A number of advanced capitalist economies are experiencing insecure work, outsourcing although WB-IMF designed reforms were not imposed on those; outflow of resources is an old “game” that began long before those reforms, and colonies and neo-colonies experienced the outflow. Privatization of “[e]nergy resources and power”, and closing down of rural branches of state-owned banks are part of the reform/restructure program, but not impact of the program. These steps/measures/tact create impact. The NMN has confused measures/programs and impact of these.

The article NMN doesn’t also provide the full picture; thus making its statements unreliable.

In Bangladesh, there was de-mobilization of industrial workers.

In Bangladesh, thousands of workers experienced “golden handshake” as part of the “reform”/restructuring. On the one way, these workers were sent to misery, poverty, sufferings, uncertainty, many daughters and sons of these workers had to leave schools, many of the “golden hand shaken” workers had to wait for long time before they got the “golden handshake” money, a number of them died before the money reached them; on the other hand, a part of the working class was demobilized. The entire “business” impacted life of these thousands of workers, and their movement for bread, rights, representation. The trade union movement still suffers from this. And, in Bangladesh, at least one “progressive” opinion was against trade union in EPZ. That opinion was expressed years ago. That “progressive” opinion by a progressive professor was carried by a progressive Baanglaa journal. Later, the journal also carried an opinion opposing the professor’s opposition to trade union rights in EPZ. Isn’t it? The article NMN misses the impact while discusses “impacts”.

[Farooque Chowdhury is Dhaka-based freelancer]

This 4-part-essay, originally composed in March-April 2015 and was shorter than the present version, is modified subsequently over the following months after it failed to find the place appropriate for the differing opinion. To have the appropriate place, the original article was once shortened to a few hundred words which formed just a few statements. However, the place was not available.]

Read Part I & Part II



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