Experts discuss bill on the provision of social services
Public hearings have been taking place in the Federation’s Public Chamber on a federal Bill on a Government Order for the Provision of State Services in the Social Sector. NGOs and Government agency experts discussed what kind of opportunities such a law would offer NGOs, what areas require further work and how the Bill relates to existing legislation.
According to Elena Topoleva, a member of the Public Chamber’s Commission on Social Policy, Labour Relations and Quality of Life of Russian Citizens, the proposed law on the “State (Municipal) Order for the Provision of State (Municipal) Services in the Social Sector” is aimed at the deregulation of the services market involving non-State providers, including NGOs, in the social services sphere. The necessary steps are outlined in a road map for providing NGO access both to the social services market and State financing for supplying social services.
“This is a slow and difficult process. Many obstacles lie in the way given this is a system that has been around for decades so naturally there’s some in-built resistance here. On the other hand, non-State providers themselves are not yet prepared to be part of this market. The Government see NGOs as partners who bring their own unique experience to the social sphere and is therefore creating artificial incentives to allow them to enter the market and so compete with State providers and business”, said Topoleva.
Vladimir Slepak, Chair of the Public Chamber’s Commission on Social Policy, Labour Relations and Quality of Life of Russian Citizens, suggested introducing the Bill in November last year. Slepak believes that the law will enhance the success of social programmes.
“For me, it’s obvious that NGOs can cut costs associated with social policy and operate in open competition with others. The very essence of NGOs is that they are non-profit-making entities which offers significant advantages in comparison with other market operators. The law would open the door to active NGO participation as they occupy a niche between State owned enterprises and small businesses”, said Slepak.
According to Alexey Lavrov, Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister, the Bill has been criticised for infringing the interests of State financed institutions, as well as providing little guarantee of NGO involvement. Nodari Khananashvili, Vice-President of the National Charities’ Association, thinks that complaints emanating from municipal authorities that things are getting worse are well wide of the mark.
“Our aim is to improve the quality of services to Russian citizens. When things aren’t going well, you have to improve your performance and increase competitiveness. Our Constitution refers to the inadmissibility of creating a competitive advantage so we need to establish a level playing field. At present, State financed organisations pay no tax on profit and there’s an infrastructure which NGOs don’t have. Therefore, in implementing this Order, we’ll need to create a level economic playing field”, said Khananashvili.
It is important that the disparity between supply and demand is addressed in the Bill, says Alexander Spivak, Director of the National Charity for the Protection of Children from Abuse. The social service provision contained in the Bill refers to services included on a departmental list of Government services. However, the private sector usually specialises in supplying a narrow range of services for specific target groups which may not be included on that list.
“In my view, very few NGOs fall within the remit of this Bill. It fits well with social business interests given services that come under State social services are those that are part of Government’s powers and responsibilities. In the Bill, we envisage competition taking place between public and private hospitals and schools. However, this doesn’t sit well with NGOs that provide help given their services are nearly always unique and specific and don’t duplicate State agency powers”, said Pavel Cantor, a lawyer at the Centre for Curative Pedagogics. This means that some organisations feel excluded from the State Order, e.g. the hospice charity “Faith” which provides unique services to the terminally ill.
The remit of this Bill overlaps with that of federal laws 442 and 44 which has led the experts to recommend the need to spell out clearly the remit of each of these laws.
A resolution is to be prepared in the light of the public hearings and will take account of suggestions made by representatives from NGOs, Government agencies and business. The deadline for comments on the draft Bill was 14 October.