Document I prepared by the Chair of the Civil Society and Democracy Committee
(in English only)

Preparatory documents for the Civil Society and Democracy Division meeting
Session of INGOs, April 2009

Strasbourg, 23rd of March 2009

Report of activities of the Chair and Vice Chair
of the Civil Society and Democracy Committee

> Code on Best Practices consultations :

Analysis and circulation of comments.

October 2008, Antonella Valmorbida, Madrid
Consultation for further steps, 24th of April, Veysel Filiz in Strasbourg

Moscow, 22 of April 2009, Antonella Valmorbida, See below contribution
Analysis and circulation of comments

“Does NGO legislation stimulate  work in NGOs?”
Contribution of the Chair of the Civil Society and Democracy Committee of the Council of Europe, Antonella Valmorbida

Moscow, Russian and international Legislation for ONGs, 21st and 22nd of April 2009

NGO legislation is both a result and a boost for the work of the Non Governmental organisations. We take here for granted that NGO activities are a integral part of democratic life and that they represent a fundamental stakeholder for freedom of expression, participation, culture, economy and social life of the community. We take here for granted that NGOs are as much important as the system of party politics – even if with different roles - to have welfare, balance and respect for human rights and minorities. Indeed, my 15 years experience in countries in transition and in post conflict area have confirmed to me that this is the case and that support to civil society goes together with peace building, reconciliation and eventually development. And the other way round, with restrictions and limitation of the NGO sector, the is a clear limitation of any development either in the field of democracy or in the field of economy.

NGO legislation stimulates the work of NGO.
Legislation identifies the operational and – somehow the cultural – context in which the NGOs have to operate. To have first a definition and which definition of NGO gives varies from country to country. The objectives given by the law to these organisations could vary a lot too.

A first step – through which it is essential to go – is to overcome the natural distinction between public and private activities and to introduce here a distinction between profit and non profit. The NGO are in this last group. In some countries and for many years after transition or conflict, the NGO sector – or what could be assimilated to this – is stuck in a state of flux in the private sector without being able to find a place in a non profit sector, non existing from a legal point of view. This strongly influence their work and their way of planning their selfsustainbility. And – at the end – naturally, these NGOs are brought towards the direction of profit without fully developing they natural role of non profit and non governmental organisations. These legislation, as it happened for a some countries in Southern Europe, would create in the medium run a profit making /non profit organisations, without too much to do with the role of civil society groups in the long run.

Second, the legislation influences the way to establish the NGO (how many founding members, decision making, etc). Most of the legislation are a copy and past of another country and, sometimes, the copy and past the mistakes and the non senses….
In a period of transition, often, there is an non clear and defined legislation and we bring over what was left from the other system. And it takes ages to get a new legislation, which will make things functioning. In other cases, the registration needs elements difficult to get (or lost in administrative burden) and depend – let say – from the good will of the a civil servant, who will receive a little help to issue the document before the next century !
The quality of the founding members and the composition of the board influence quite a lot the nature of the NGO sector. In the Local Democracy Agencies network, which I run since 1999, each LDA is registered locally with different characteristics. But, only in Georgia – so far – we managed to have a board and a president composed of international and local local authorities and NGOs, which – in our case – would be the essence of our cooperation, namely the multilateral decentralised cooperation. In no other countries, we managed fully to translate locally the international involvement of the partners of the Local Democracy Agencies. In these other Agencies, the board is only local and the international partners are like an advisory board.

Moreover, the legislation influences the operational context in which the NGO will operate. Which financial system and accounting procedures ? Which decision making control ? Membership fees organisation ? Labour market ? Taxes ? Foreign resources ? Only local resources.
All these questions are facilitated or made difficult by the legislation in place. Often they can make blooming or just kill the NGO sector. For most of the NGOs in Europe, the sustainability and the possible long run comes from diversified resources and strategies : local resources, membership fees, international programmes (EU or other sponsors), private support. We have suffered a lot in countries where NGOs are somehow assimilated to companies and they have a strict control system on the bank accounts where any Euro coming is a) heavily taxed b) traced c) converted into local money, it goes without saying by using a non convenient exchange rate. This a natural restrictive NGO legislation – involving the financial management of it – and closes sooner or later the international cooperation of the medium and big seize NGOs, those that usually make the difference as far as policies in a countries are concerned. Those three steps …. After a short while … brings the NGO to identify any other solution to receive funds for survival ….or they will need to close.

Service providers and organisations closer to citizens : NGOs can be considered by legislation as easy and flexible instruments between authorities and citizens. Indeed, in Western Europe and in some countries of South Eastern Europe, they are considered as instruments for implementation of tasks and services close to citizens and providing services to them. It is often an excellent opportunity to make the citizens’ more aware of the possible role of the NGOs.

NGOs stimulates legislation
Indeed, NGOs could have role to improve the legislation from different point of view. In most of the cases, legislators and politicians are just not aware of the needs of the Ngo sector and they need to be properly reported. Therefore, Ngos have an important role to bring to them coherent and if possible clear indications about where they intend to go and how the sector must be improved. This requires a certain maturity of the NGO sector which is not possible …. If the legislation does not allow them to grow and to last in the time. So it could be either a vicious or virtuous circle. In this case, coalitions and groups of ngos must be establish to be included in the decision making process or least part of the development of it.

How to make the citizens’ aware of the role of the NGos
Much can do by the legislation in making NGos more well known and transparent to the public.
Often, the citizens are not aware of what the NGOs are and are for. And we do not know something, it is easy to be afraid of it or suspicious. For many years, in many countries, NGOs were considered enemy of the state or international spies not only by governmental bodies and politicians but by simple citizens.
Therefore, I guess one of the way to improve communication and relationship between citizens and NGO sector could be information and awareness. It is a role of the different actors of the communications and not only media have to be blame. Indeed, the Ngos too must put a special attention to inform the general audience about their target, focus and methodology.
Another important aspect is the effort in involvement of citizens in some activities. In the implementation of activities, NGOs often can be considered as closed circle and it is necessary to have open spaces and opened activities to make the citizens aware.
Transparency and understanding of the non profit sector must be a clear objective of the NGOs to the public.