A Glance at NGO Code Of Conduct

'We are resolved to take care and measures to make our houses in order.' That was a commitment for good conduct non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in Ethiopia made March 5 at Africa Hall.

A total of 165 local and international NGOs endorsed and signed the Code of Conduct for NGOs in Ethiopia. The document establishes the "norms, principles and values to standardise the conduct, action and behaviour of NGOs." Before that, NGO activities in Ethiopia were "unregulated" for almost three decades.

NGOs had largely been engaged in emergency and relief activities. Their involvement in mitigating the effects of the droughts of 1973/74 and 1984/85 was enormous.

Indeed, they had saved millions of people from starving to death. Ethiopia has not yet developed the legal framework for NGO operation.

Although there is a guideline for NGO operation, which was prepared some time in 1995, it is far from complete. Still, it is evolving since it has to be improved, integrated and streamlined to the country's early warning and disaster prevention and preparedness policy and changes taking place.

In this regard, the adoption of the NGO code of conduct is expected to provide a basic input into the development of the regulation. The document is indicative of the transformation taking place in the sector.

Committing themselves to the principles of good practices, NGOs are indeed showing to their target communities, the government and other partners that they meant serious business. They are sending the message of scraping the veil of secrecy and obscure dealings as they have opted for a uniform voluntary self-regulation.

The code would also be instrumental in dispelling lingering misunderstanding between the government and NGOs. The former mistrusts NGOs because they have brought about little change in the living condition of the people they were supposedly serving in the past three decades of their presence in Ethiopia.

Through their heavy reliance on hand-outs, they are blamed for encouraging a tendency of aid dependence rather than self-reliance. Whereas the voluntary groups claim that they are feeling the "heavy-handedness and interference" of the government in their operation.

Emergency and relief activities have gradually declined in Ethiopia, particularly in the past few years. As a result, NGOs are being forced to streamline their missions to address the country's development challenges.

The free distribution of relief food is being discouraged as part of the government policy to integrate relief with development. Since NGOs are emerging as an important development partners, they are required to carry out their activities with "care, transparency and accountability." Adhering to these principles would help them attain their mission of improving and advancing "the public good, the quality of life of those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable and the proper management of the environment for future generations." The code of conduct was, thus, devised to reflect the "core values" of the voluntary groups.

It has two major sections: Standards of Conduct and Code Observance. Listed under the standards section are principles and values of voluntarism such as community involvement, fairness and equity, ethics, transparency and accountability, governance, independence, communication and gender.

As set out in the code, NGOs will:

  • see their efforts as a means for people and communities to solve their problems by themselves.
  • act in solidarity with the goals and priorities of their target communities.
  • respect the indigenous knowledge, the dignity and identity of individuals and their culture, faith and values.
  • exercise and promote fairness, impartiality and equity in all of their activities and in their dealings with interested parties, community partners and the general public.
  • act truthfully and refrain from practices that undermine the moral and ethical integrity of their organisations.
  • be transparent and accountable in their dealings with the government, community, donors and other interested parties.
  • conform to the constitution, law, rules and regulations of Ethiopia. l strive to maintain their autonomy and resist conditionalities that may compromise their missions and principles.
  • fully integrate gender sensitization into their human resource development and promote non-discriminatory working practices.
  • develop and promote clear and measurable impact indicators for their programmes in order to gauge relevance and effectiveness.

The Code of Conduct of NGOs in Ethiopia was believed to create an "effective and efficient co-ordination and collaboration" with the government, the public and other stakeholders. The code observance section of the document details the powers and duties of the 7-member committee-five NGOs and two civil society representatives-acting as the guardian of the code of conduct.

The committee was empowered to maintain code observance, consider and determine complaints related to non-observance as well as hear and decide on all instances of breaches of the code. It could advise or admonish guilty ones; or, in case of serious violation, recommend to the general assembly suspension or cancellation from membership.

PDF Version: Code of Conduct for NGOs in Ethiopia

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Comments and suggestions:
Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org