Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Reality Bites

Ok, so re-reading my post from yesterday I see that perhaps it is a little self-righteous. Just a touch…

I certainly don’t have the answers to the complicated questions on how to improve lives in under-developed countries, all I know is that it’s complicated. And it’s not black and white. And it’s not easy.

Here’s a good example that I discovered this morning.

One of Moanoghar’s projects is being audited today. The project is funded by a local agency for DFID (the UK Department for International Development). I came across some ‘evidence’ of the the recruiting process used here at Moanoghar for the two latest joiners. It shows that of the 5 candidates interviewed for each posts (using both a written and a verbal test) the two successful candidates scored the highest on these tests.

There were no tests. In fact, there were no interviews. Two existing members of staff where given these new positions, with no effort to advertise the position externally, as dictated by the terms within the project agreement. This evidence has been fabricated to get through the audit.

So up I jumped onto my moral high horse. And stayed up there for about 5 minutes.

Turns out the deal here is if a position is advertised, and some local politicians gets a whiff of it, (s)he will contact the organisation with the vacancy and make a ‘request’ that a certain individual is recruited to this post. Someone who is say, a friend of the politician or a family member, or to whom the politicians owns a favour. Once this ‘request’ is made, an organisation has no choice but to hire this person. This person will invariably not care for working openly and honestly or for the benefit of the organisation and will generally take just the piss. Saying no to someone is power is a bad idea here. Grants will not be given, paper work will get lost, and in general all support will be withdrawn, and many obstacles thrown in the way instead. This is how things work here, people with power are happy to abuse it for their own purposes, even to the detriment of people in their own communities.

So what choice does an organisation have when trying to select the best person for the job, who they believe will work with the best intentions and honesty? To just not advertise the position in the first place. And to fabricate evidence for auditing purposes.

And this kind of pressure doesn’t just come from politicians, it also comes from donors. This very funding agency (performing today’s audit) is also ‘recommending’ a candidate for a new position.

NGOs really get it from all sides here. They are constantly at the mercy of the more powerful (politicians, donors, influential members of civil society etc). In an under-developed country like Bangladesh, the NGO section is pretty much the Big Business sector of developed countries. This is where the money is, where the foreign aid comes in. People want a slice of the pie, and not everyone in development is in it for the right reasons.

All I can be grateful for is that I work in for an organisation who is as honest as they can be within this system. They are working for the best interests of the organisation, and for improvements in the lives of their beneficiaries. And while the road they must travel is not straight, and has detours that I personally don’t like, this is the harsh reality of what it takes to try do the right thing here.


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