NGO progress and prospects
The politicians should take NGOs much more
seriously: ASI director, Elena Topoleva, explains
number of different factors affected developments in the third sector in 2012.
The Duma (lower house of the Russian parliament) passed a number of laws
changing the legislation relating to NGOs whilst government programmes
supporting the sector continued to expand. Elena Topoleva, chair of the Russian
Federation’s Public Chamber committee on social policy, labour relations and
quality of life, head of the working group on the development of NGOs set up under the auspices of the
presidential council on the development of civil society and civil rights, and
co-chair of Civil Twenty, gave an
interview to an ASI correspondent on the
changes that had taken place in the third sector and what awaited it in 2013.
Topoleva said that NGOs were an established item on both the parliamentary and
government agendas and the subject of regular reports in the media. In 2012
Government had continued to increase its support and a state programme for
supporting socially oriented NGOs (SONGOs) had been implemented with provision
for future financing and development. Presidential grants had significantly
increased to 2 billion roubles a year. There had also been significant progress
at regional level especially in Moscow and the Krasnodar region.
SONGOs programme had stimulated competition amongst the regions, which were
striving to work up their own programmes, and forums devoted to the development
of civil society were being organised locally. Regions were exchanging their
experience and the level of co-operation had increased. Thanks to state
encouragement, NGOs had begun to set up effective associations which commanded
government respect. Ms Topoleva added that many NGOs had continued to become
more effective in attracting private finance and working with volunteers to
programmes and ideas for stimulating the development of civil society worked up
by NGO specialists had been included in the National Socio-economic Development
Strategy leading up to 2020 and in the open government projects. The latter
were now out for public discussion. It was most important that this vast amount
of work should not be discarded. Today the strategy was being translated into
practical measures and plans for implementation.
legislative regulation, insurance premiums had been decreased. A bill providing
for some relief from tax for charitable organisations had been drafted. The
authorities were inviting NGOs to provide services more and more often, which
was happening despite rather than because of the current law. However, there
were moves to encourage competition with governmental agencies in the social
sphere. In particular, provisions had been included in the Social Services Bill
as promoted by the ministry of labour and social welfare. It was important for
this trend to continue in 2013. However, the foreign agents law had had a dire
effect on NGOs, many of which had become doubtful about their stability. There
were too many provisions couched in general terms making it unclear as to
whether a particular organisation was regarded as a ‘foreign agent’. This was
in spite of the fact that exceptions for some activities were set out in the law.
This had created an atmosphere of tension in the third sector. Furthermore
research carried out by ASI showed that public trust had been undermined. The
public had not discriminated between NGOs but taken the law as a reflection on
the sector as a whole.
a law was in force there was no other option but to observe how it was
implemented and to contest controversial decisions in court. A huge majority of
NGOs that received foreign money were not prepared to acknowledge that they
foreign agents. The presidential council’s group on the development of NGOs was
to monitor implementation of the law and defend NGOs’ rights. The presidential
council on guardianship in the social sphere (of which Ms Topoleva is a member)
would be looking at the issue of NGO participation in the provision of social
services. It would be working with the ministry of labour on support for
families in difficulties provided in conjunction with the NGOs. The council
would also be elevating the status of NGOs in the provision of social services.
to open government, it was proposed that important work would be carried out in
collaboration with government and the business sector to develop the
non-commercial sector via the National Citizen’s Initiative with defined goals,
indicators and measures. The public chamber’s committee on social policy was
monitoring implementation of the programme for the support of SONGOs. seeking
feedback from the organisations involved on possible improvements to the
programmes. It was important that they make an input into what might be done to
strengthen the third sector.
agenda of Civil Twenty for 2013 would
include ecological issues and reducing the level of corruption and so on.
Problems raised by NGOs should be brought to the attention of the leadership so
that the voice of civil society might be heard within the framework of the G20
meeting due to take place in Russia in 2013. Russia was faced with a peculiar
challenge. Representatives of Civil
Twenty hoped that organisation of the process could match the very high
standard set in 2006 when Russia chaired the G8. The Civil Twenty’s organising committee had created a special site on
the internet devoted to making a wide representative forum available.
Topoleva’s expectations and hopes for the non-commercial sector in 2013 were
that all the positive trends that she
had mentioned would be developed and that the NGOs would cease to be regarded
as an insignificant item in the games played by politicians. If the state
declared that it wished to support NGOs, then it should refrain from taking
every convenient opportunity to rehash the legislation so as to create panic
amongst NGOs, their clients, donors and volunteers. Otherwise, it would be
supporting the non-commercial sector with one hand and harming it with the
other. She did not believe that there were many enemies of Russia amongst
active NGOs, including civil rights organisations.