Bern, SwitzerlandBern Switzerland

Is transparent NGO-information a public good ?

Lately, the Swiss government has decided to scrap financial contributions to lobbying and advocacy activities of non-governmental organisations in the development sector. No matter how much such informational activities are in the public interest, e.g on initiatives to combat pandemic diseases, food insecurity or the effects of climate change in partner countries. It is henceforth impossible to obtain public funding for informing and rendering account on NGO programme challenges and achievements. Such information is considered undue influencing of the public opinion.

At the same time, all sorts of other NGOs in the non-commercial sector, federations, interest groups in sports, agriculture, education etc. continue to enjoy governmental subsidies without any barriers to their informational practice. Most of them are eligible under the Swiss non-governmental organisations regulations with strict regulations on transparency and accountability in place.

The political parties, some think tanks and groups of influencers however continue to operate with partly hidden funding, mostly from private sources. Their principal motive is to influence public opinion, be it to boost consumption of goods and services or to shape an opinion on political issues. Many of these organisations can mobilise powerful interests (and resources) to prevent transparency in their funding operations. 

Result of this brief reflection is that one of the most open and democratic societies in the world is about to loose its credibility to encourage pluralism and diversity of opinions. Sadly, this breeze of totalitarianism is introduced around internationally engaged NGOs whose funding base is an ongoing struggle anyway. After all my decades in the development sector which was a small puzzle piece to help emancipate societies abroad, it is a nightmare to see my own home country backtracking on informational democracy.

                                                                        Martin Sommer
                                                                        Owner Consultant devolutions Ltd.