Global Policy Forum

NGOs Losing Privileged Status


By Heide B. Malhotra

Epoch Times
January 31, 2006

More non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are losing their unconstrained status—becoming more regulated—according to an Oxford Analytica report released in mid-January. "NGOs are not elected entities, and their constituencies may be too selective or narrow," declares Analytica in its press release. "The transparency of NGO processes often remains poor, in part because they remain largely unregulated." Many countries, including Eritrea, Nepal, and Sudan, have implemented new laws restricting activities of local and foreign NGOs, Analytica says. Analytica reported in 2004 that charitable foundations no longer provide funds to NGOs without any strings attached. Academia—including the Yale School of Management—is also calling for greater transparency and accountability of NGOs.

In mid-2002, the European Commission implemented financial regulations for funding of NGOs. In response, NGOs such as The Open Society Institute-Brussels, Concord, The Platform of European Social NGOs, SOLIDAR, and the European Women's Lobby commissioned a report in 2005 on the affiliation between the European Commission and NGOs, titled Striking a Balance—Efficiency, Effectiveness and Accountability .

Russia, Kazakhstan Seek to Limit or Ban NGOs

NGOs warned that regulations adopted in 2002 had a detrimental effect on the relationship between the European Commission and NGOs. "The creative partnership between NGOs and the European Commission is being jeopardized by the too rigid application of the regulations," the report says.

In December 2005, Russian legislators debated enforcing more stringent regulations on NGOs' activities and funding. "NGOs can be shut down if they threaten the country's sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, national unity and originality, cultural heritage and national interests," stated the Pakistani Daily Times . In response, the U.S.-based human rights organization Freedom House downgraded Russia from a "partially free" to an "unfree" state.

Kazakhstan's President has asked the country's Constitutional Court whether newly adopted laws governing NGOs are legal under the Kazakh constitution. The new laws prevent foreign NGOs from operating in Kazakhstan.

Today, governments are relying more and more on information and analysis of public and private sectors by NGOs. Such reliance undoubtedly has some effect on countries' domestic and international policies. "In many countries, NGOs are exercising significant and increasing degrees of influence on decision-making through their research, public education and media campaign[s]," said Analytica.

Governments are concerned as no oversight, regulation, or monitoring tools exist to oversee activities that often have a great impact on decision-making processes. "More monitoring and regulation by governments is likely to accompany this increasing involvement in policy issues," suggests Analytica. "Because of increased influence, governments are interested in enhancing the accountability of NGOs and gaining more control over their activities."

Analytica suggested that NGOs have different political objectives that often may not coincide with host governments' agendas. "The NGO sector includes organizations with diverse political objectives," said Analytica. "Some agree with existing government agendas, while others clearly oppose them." This month, Russia banned German and British NGOs from entering Chechnya and the republic of Ingushetya, citing non-compliance with Russian regulations. Those NGOs opposed the Russian government's agenda in the area.

Some Governments Work with NGOs

NGOs may also become a tool for governments. Cooperative relationships with governments through consultations, participatory processes, and funding have been established. Activities may take the form of informal forum discussions, such as the European Policy Forums.

The French and British governments engage NGOs on a regular and formal basis concerning policies for developing countries. Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Brazil, prescribe to a participatory process when addressing health, education, infrastructure, and recreational policies. These countries instituted regulations and laws to ensure transparency. The U.S. provides NGOs with grants and contracts for research and consultation on policy issues. Lobbying by NGOs has kept regulations in the U.S. at a minimum.

The United Nations regularly consults with NGOs. By mid-2005, 26,243 NGOs were registered with the U.N. Economic and Social Council and 1,407 were officially recognized by the U.N. secretariat's Department of Public Information.

NGOs fear that over-reliance on government funding and cozy relationships with governments affect their independence status. Binding contracts with governments may expose NGOs to undue political pressure. However, nations see NGO independence as a threat to their policies. Regulations and laws governing NGO activities are promulgated by many governments or have already been signed into law.

NGOs are institutes that generally operate independent of any governmental organizations. The majority of NGOs concern themselves with social or political causes that are important to their membership. Government grants, research funds, private-sector donations, and earnings from research projects provide their incomes. Most NGOs are non-profit organizations and often operate under tax-exempt status.

Dr. David R. Young established Oxford Analytica in 1975. Analytica is a UK-based think-tank that scrutinizes international issues and their effects on public and private sectors worldwide. Independent researchers and more than 1,000 senior university professors from Oxford University and other major universities are responsible for producing the majority of Analytica's knowledge base.

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