NGO reduction heats up budget debate

Nine hundred and sixty non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were excluded from the 2006 budget, and this has turned the legislative debates into heated arguments. The reason is quite simple: Many of the NGOs were being ‘sponsored’ by legislators who apparently received important benefits from the organizations. According to Listin Diario, when the budget cuts for NGOs were revealed during the debates in Congress, there was uproar amongst opposition PRD and PRSC members who felt that they had been subject to discrimination. However, the paper reports that even some PLD deputies felt deceived by the move to eliminate these juicy subsidies. It became apparent that some NGOs are headed by individuals who have court cases pending, but no names were released to the press. Late last night the lower house voted to create a special commission to go over the budget proposal for 2006.

Among the complaints voiced by deputies Juan Roque Jerez , Jorge Frias and Levin Guerrero was the fact that the NGO managed by Felix Bautista, who happens to be the head of the office that audits all public works contracts, and the Juan Bosch Foundation both received millions for their “good works.” PLD legislator Isabel Bonilla was crystal clear in her declaration when she said that “it is not fair that the administration’s legislators, that are here to defend government projects, receive fewer resources than the institutions that are sponsored by government officials, just because they work in the offices where the budget is allocated or that opposition legislators are afraid to openly express their feelings on the budget for fear that their own NGOs will be cut out of the budget.”

Diario Libre Editor in Chief Adriano Miguel Tejada dedicates his A.M. column to the arguments surrounding the NGOs. He says that by definition the legislators should have nothing to do with the NGOs, since they are supposed to be “non-governmental”, and added that the NGOs should not even be in the national budget precisely because they are supposed to be “non-governmental.” However, given the difficult tax problems that surround private sector philanthropic activities, the Dominican government has no choice but to step in and assist many of the worthy causes.

Tejada cites Rehabilitation and Cancer foundations as two especially worthy causes that have done outstanding work. Tejada ends his column by asking the legislators, so jealous of cutting fat from the budget, to send these funds to the corresponding ministry. This, he points out, would be to work for the public good.