The humanitarian aid race, State-NGO relation

The picture on Eid al-Adha made me very happy. Dozens of NGOs were racing with each other to bring qurbani meat to countries of which the names are forgotten by people. With qurbani meat in their hands and smiles on their faces, they distributed aid in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, to the places where no one goes, does not want to go, or does not even know.

I think it was precisely what "racing for goodness" in the Islamic tradition meant.

A merciful nation to be proud of

Our people have an exceptional place among other nations in the world in terms of aid and charity. A nation that weeps for and gives financial aid to countries thousands of kilometers away, to nations they have never heard of and for people who they will probably never see, just because they are oppressed, is an exceptional nation. This aid was given without expecting anything in return, without advertisements and without any worldly purpose. It's something to be very proud of.

Sometimes my foreign colleagues asked me, “Do your people really shed tears for the Rohingyas?” Our people have such a kind heart that they shed tears for everyone who is oppressed without discriminating. This is the feeling that puts us in first place among countries that provide aid in the world.

No matter how troubled the Turkish economy is, our nation never objects to aid provided by the state or NGOs. Our first lady Emine Erdoğan, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and other state officials are now distributing aid to the oppressed Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Forget about objecting, everyone is applauding it.

Thousands of charities have been born in Turkey, thanks to this enthusiastic feeling of benevolence and compassion in the heart of the nation. They are all trying to organize this aid and to deliver the mercy of benefactors to the needy. The situation on Eid al-Adha is the latest and best example of this years-long tradition.

State NGOs

State aid agencies were also very active compared to previous years. State aid organizations such as the Red Crescent, Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs’ Foundation and Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) were engaged in proactive aid activities like the NGOs. Private charities also competed with them.

There was a significant decline in donations to NGOs last year. That was due to the news reports that FETÖ’s charity organizations spent donations on the organization instead of on victims. This caused people to direct their aid to state-funded aid agencies. So much so that, the Red Crescent did not accept some of the aid as it had fulfilled its quota.

This was also because statesmen, in an exemplary move, gave their donations and qurbanis to state institutions like the Red Crescent.

Although this year the problem has been partially diminished, there are still various problems in the relation between the state and aid agencies. These problems have come to the agenda once more with the Rohingya crisis.

There are some issues that need special attention. The state, NGOs and nation should pay attention to them.

What about state-NGO cooperation?

First, NGOs act independently of the state and provide aid that the state does not or cannot give due to legal restrictions. For example, the Red Crescent cannot carry out aid activities in terms of international law in Syria. Therefore, civil aid organizations such as IHH, Sadaka Taşı and İyilik Der played a vital role. AFAD and the Red Crescent cooperated with these institutions and helped them to get aid to Syria and Iraq. Not only for humanitarian aid, but in many cases, governments need NGOs. This is actually a very significant soft power.

If the state thwarts NGOs while supporting its own aid organizations, then there is a big mistake. This was greatly witnessed long before the AK Party government.

The task of the state is to supervise NGOs, instead of directing, restricting or preventing their activities. The state is not the enemy, opponent or boss of NGOs. It only supervises them when they make mistakes.

Now, the state should create regulations and ensure coordination to prevent NGOs, most of which come from the same base as the AK Party, from experiencing similar problems. This coordination ensures audit and the maximum benefit of aid.

Nationalized NGOs

There are duties that fall on the NGOs as well. Civil society organizations are defined as non-governmental organizations – which I think is a good definition. Our NGOs have acted like state organizations in the recent years because they could not balance their relations with the government well. This goes against the logic of organization and the function of NGOs.

For some reason, newly established foundations, associations and charitable organizations see themselves as part of the government. So, they cannot act without support or a signal from the government. This is a very wrong and dangerous situation.

There is a need for new organizational models, coordination systems and healthy supervisory mechanisms in state-NGO relations. At the same time, NGOs need to pull themselves together and return to their true function.

So, we can maintain our feature of "racing for goodness" that we are proud of