Outlook for civil society discussed at Ministry for Economic Development
At the fourth national conference on the experience of the regions and municipalities in regard to social partnership and the development of the institutions of civil society, held by the ministry of economic development, the executive secretary of the Donors’ Forum, Natalya Kaminarskaya, said that there had been significantly more work done on legislation affecting the activities of the non-commercial sector in 2009 than in the previous year. Dmitri Medvedev had responded by setting up a working group to look at the issues raised and the changes suggested. She pointed out that meanwhile the volume of finance allotted to the third sector from federal, regional and municipal sources had exceeded that of previous years. She also drew attention to the development of private giving including the participation in various events of well-known figures and also the involvement of business in volunteering. At the same time there were problems. It was not every ministry or government department that invited joint working with the non-commercial sector. The public were still not receiving satisfactory information about charitable initiatives.
Ella Pamfilova, chair of the presidential council for the support of the development of the institutions of civil society and human rights, reminded the conference that reform of the legislation governing the third sector would proceed in three stages: lowering the administrative hurdles; easing the financial aspect of third sector operations; and, rationalising the underlying legal basis. Much of this had been reflected in the work on support for the charitable sector and volunteering carried out by the ministry with the participation of an appropriate committee of the public chamber and also of a wide circle of third sector representatives and specialists. Alongside the proposals for legislation, Ms Pamfilova stressed the necessity of helping to identify sensible ways of implementing changes that had already been adopted. If all ministries and departments were to be as open to co-operation with civil society as is the ministry for economic development, the nation’s life would change for the better more quickly. She also commented that it was essential to exploit the potential of the Russian public more actively. The gap between the number of people expressing their readiness to engage in socially meaningful activity and the number actually doing so was as wide as ever. ‘It is participation by the public that guarantees the autonomy, self sufficiency and freedom of civil society and that also serves the authorities well’, she said. She added that public watchdogs should be created and other measures undertaken to protect the organisations that are most effective in fighting corruption and abuse on the part of officialdom’.
The first pro-rector of the school of advanced economics at the state university, Lev Yakobson, said that the non-commercial sector was far from being securely established. Even its institutional forms and the way in which it relates to both citizens and officials had not been settled. ‘We see the sector as being heterogeneous in the extreme, which gives rise to a huge variety of issues so that it is totally undesirable to treat them all alike’, he stressed. NGOs differ from each other as regards the amount of financial resources available, the scale of their work and the number of staff and volunteers working for them. Extending allowances or exemptions would not be extended to all NGOs without an appropriate quid pro quo. Nevertheless he was convinced that it would not do to impose requirements on those that do not claim allowances and bonuses. In the academic’s opinion, applying the golden mean might amount to identifying a group of NGOs that adhered to international standards of transparency and corporate governance and allocating tax exemptions and other privileges to them.