BEIRUT: All major NGOs caring for disabled people in Lebanon will be forced to suspend operations in the coming days because of an ongoing funding crisis, the president of the Permanent Coordination Office of the NGOs said Wednesday.
“We have been running on slim budgets and we have got to the point where we cannot sustain operations anymore,” Raif Choueiri told The Daily Star.
He said that two more centers ceased operations this week, in addition to the 32 that suspended services last week. In total, there are 56 NGOs aiding around 8,000 disabled people, mostly children, across the country.
The Permanent Coordination Office has been warning for three years that it faces a funding crisis that would threaten the work of the associations. Choueiri said that some NGOs had not paid their staff for three months, and that others were operating without electricity.
Services provided by the NGOs are paid for by the government, based on prices set by a committee gathering representatives of seven ministries, led by the Social Affairs Ministry.
The committee is required by law to reassess prices every year, but between 2004 and 2011 the committee failed to meet and NGOs are currently being paid only 60 percent of the rates set in 2004.
A delegation from the Permanent Coordination Office met Wednesday with Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour in order to lobby for a resolution to the issue.
During the meeting, Abu Faour pledged to try and secure an advance from the treasury to fund the NGOs, if the current, national political impasse over legalizing LL8.9 trillion (nearly $6 billion) in extra-budgetary spending for 2011 was not resolved soon.
“The Cabinet has previously spent treasury advances on what’s deserving and what’s not deserving and even if it is a constitutional violation I am willing to take responsibility for it,” Abu Faour said.
He added that he believed such an advance could secure support from President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
“The prime minister is a good man. So is the finance minister. And President Michel Sleiman is a responsible and good man, and they might intervene to help in asking for a treasury advance for funding these NGOs,” Abu Faour said.
He added that he was optimistic the Cabinet would soon solve the extra-budgetary spending issue, and that funds for the NGOs would then be “at the top of priorities.” However, the issue was shelved during Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.
The NGO delegation also visited Sidon MP Bahia Hariri at her home in Majdalyoun accompanied by the heads of local care organizations for the disabled in Sidon and the representatives of 52 civil society groups.
Hariri voiced her sympathy for the cause and promised to do all she could to prevent the subject from becoming politically sidelined.
The delegation and the heads of several organizations also met with the governor of the south, while NGOs and disabled people and their families staged a sit-in in Sidon.
Simultaneously, north Lebanon-based organizations that care for the disabled organized a meeting with the participation of families of the disabled and social workers, where they decried the government’s neglect of the issue.
Choueiri said the disabled being cared for by the NGOs, which he said provide “comprehensive care, from cradle to grave,” had mostly returned to their homes, although “a few hundred” in need of critical care were being assisted by volunteer staff.
“I don’t know how long this will go on,” he said. “The staff have families of their own.”
The office and NGOs that care for disabled people in Tyre, Bint Jbeil, and Nabatieh are to hold a sit-in Thursday in Nabatieh. – Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari