The legal environment is linked to Government relations with civil society. To be effective CSOs must be able to form freely and interact with Government while engagement to review legislation requires positive relations with Government. We use the term civil society to refer to a wide range of freely formed associations including NGOs, CSOs, charities, community groups and other voluntary not-for-profit groups.That is, associations of citizens formed freely without Government coercion and operating outside the commercial world – not-for-profit and non-Governmental.
Relations between Governments and civil society range from indifference and conflict through tolerance to engagement and partnership. At the level of indifference Governments have little knowledge or understanding of the nature and potential roles of civil society or the community sector and take no interest in developing a relationship. There may a lack of cohesion and purpose in civil society itself. When civil society becomes more active and organised this can lead to antagonism and conflict with action from government aimed at limiting community activity. Alternatively community activism can lead to a neutral but tolerant approach where Government continues its operations while expecting civil society to keep to its “place” without any direct impact on Government. However, a positive relationship can develop with engagement between Government and civil society leading to partnership in areas such as delivery of services (especially health, education and welfare) and a legitimate role for civil society in monitoring government, an example being in the budget process, advocacy and even being invited to contribute to the development of policies. We need to encourage both Governments and civil society to embark on the journey from indifference to partnership. In this workshop we will explore the factors that prevent this and how engagement can be encouraged without leading to conflict.
In our survey we asked whether government elected members and officials adequately understand the nature and potential role of civil society and how this situation could be improved. The key is to moving forward is to educate government, especially the officials responsible for implementation, about the role of CSOs. At the same time CSOs need to be active in showing positive aspects of their work. The survey responses suggested that the level of interaction and dialogue between civil society and Government needs improving in many countries which requires informing and educating officials on the role and relevance of civil society and CSOs. One response highlights a dilemma that is often present but not widely expressed by CSOs. That is the “need to compromise some watch-dog roles by NGOs” in order to engage in a meaningful dialogue about potential partnership relationships. Another mentioned the problem of “excessive criticism of government”. Simply focussing on the watch-dog and advocacy roles can reinforce Government apathy, intolerance or opposition – something we need to discuss further.
The majority of responses stated that there is no formal MOU or compact covering the Government’s relationship with civil society with only three currently having such an agreement. India and Solomon Islands have prepared comprehensive draft MOUs which have not been ratified by the Government while in Nigeria there is a compact at the Lagos State level. A number of responses referred to agreements with government on specific issues such as the Dominican Republic’s law for not-for-profit organisations and the Law on Freedom of Association in Burkino Faso.We are building a collection of these “compacts” and of MOU’s or agreements on specific issues or legislation. Although AGNA does not have the resources to carry out a detailed analysis of them they are available for those wanting to look at options for such agreements.What is clear from the accompanying comments is that there is often a gap between the intent specified in these agreements and the implementation in practice.
Even where governments have a negative attitude towards civil society examples were given of positive engagement. Lack of formal recognition does not prevent the existence of vibrant civil society. On the other hand, the existence of active and vocal civil society does not automatically lead to its acceptance. Civil society may be “understood” by governments and still be viewed by them as an opponent. Seven countries gave examples of officials seeing CSOs as a challenge, as part of the political opposition, or there being a culture of mutual suspicion. On the positive side, almost all countries are currently involved in reviewing the laws on the operation of CSOs. This includes monitoring, raising awareness, mobilising stakeholders, and engaging directly with the government over law reform.
The major way in which positive relationships have been created is through ongoing engagement with Government by civil society through a range of networks. The key lies in building successful networks which enable CSOs to act collectively and speak to government with one voice on critical issues.Thank you.
AGNA AGM civil society- gov relations and enabling environ 2012
Civil society - Government relations and enabling legal environmentPolicy on Government relations and legal environment.A toolkit to assist AGNA members engage with theirGovernments in moving from conflict to engagement.Legal environment validates Government relations withcivil society. CSOs must be able to form freely andinteract with Government and engagement to reviewlegislation requires positive relations with Government.
Current relations• Relations range from indifference and conflict through tolerance to engagement.• Organised civil society can lead to antagonism and conflict with governments wanting to limit community activity.• Or community activism can result in tolerance where Government expects civil society to keep to its “place”.• However, positive relationships can develop leading to partnership in delivery of services, monitoring government, and helping develop policies.
Future relationships• We need to encourage both Governments and civil society to develop positive and mutually supportive relationships.• What are the factors that prevent this and how can engagement be encouraged without leading to conflict?
Key themes and priorities for action• Need to educate governments (especially officials) about civil society and positive role CSOs can play as partners in development - not just as critics of government.• Only three countries have formal agreements or compacts between the government and civil society in place. Two have draft compacts that have not been ratified.• Several responses said that an agreement would be useful. The focus should be on the process used in creating an agreement and its implementation – not just the content. Action not words.
Survey themes• Even where governments are negative to civil society examples were given of positive engagement. Lack of formal recognition does not prevent the existence of vibrant civil society.• Active and vocal civil society may not lead to its acceptance. Civil society may be “understood” and viewed as an opponent.• Officials may see CSOs as a challenge, as part of the political opposition, or there being a culture of mutual suspicion.
How can AGNA engage?• Written legislation and MOUs are not useful without practical action & implementation.• AGNA should focus on “how to engage” with Governments – as well as written “best practice”.• This work needs organised and effective national umbrella organisations.
Collective expression of citizenaspiration?In order to achieve these goals organisationsfocus on three key areas:• a) partners to collaborate and develop a coherent direction• b) targets who can unlock the spaces for social change to take place• c) messages to ensure that there is a clear request for change
Structured role of civil society• How to develop national networks?• Internal self governance• Recognition by government/authorities
Moving Towards Solutions?How do we define best practice in:• Building coalitions, networks & alliances• Communications approaches & Advocacy• Space for dialogue, eg. agreed framework with government• Contractual relationships with government, eg. procurement of projects
Working Groups to consider:• "What are the key issues and/or barriers tobuilding a working relationship with yourgovernment?";• “What are the key strengths of civil societyin your country on which a working relationshipwith government can be built?”;• "What has worked well in the relationshipin your country?".
Collective Message• “What suggestions emerge from ourdiscussion for a “global charter of citizenclaims”?”