Tashkent hosted an international conference on the ‘Development of Social Partnership between Government and NGOs: the Experience of Uzbekistan and International Practice’.
The event was organized by the Independent Institute for Monitoring the Formation of Civil Society (IIMFCS) in cooperation with national and foreign partners.
The conference has brought together experts of research centers of Germany, the Netherlands, India, Canada, France, South Korea, Japan and other countries, representatives of international organizations and diplomatic missions accredited in Uzbekistan, members of the Legislative Chamber and the Senate of Oliy Majlis, executives of public authorities, experts, representatives of NGOs and the media.
As noted at the conference, the construction of a strong and open civil society, which guarantees the protection of human rights, interests and freedoms have been a priority of democratic change in the country from the first days of its independence.
The government has been implemented the principle ‘From a strong state towards a strong civil society’, which implies the expansion of rights and powers of civil institutions, including the role of nongovernmental organizations, their functions in protecting human rights, freedoms and legitimate interests, ensuring active involvement of citizens in management and organization of society as a whole.
Favorable conditions, incentives and opportunities that are provided by the state, encourage civil society institutions for active involvement in the society and state management, contributing to the enhancement of social and economic activity and legal culture.
The concept of ‘civil society’ has already rooted in the vocabulary, mass and individual consciousness of the local population. According to the results of social surveys, civil society institutions in Uzbekistan have been evolving on the background of national traditions, the centuries-old historical experience of formation of public and social relations. People associate their role in civil society with collective solution of various social missions like landscaping, charity, assistance to vulnerable groups, and others.
At the same time, the establishment of nongovernmental organizations is not an end in itself. They should express the aspirations and needs of different social groups and the general public, represent their interests, and enjoy their support. Only supported by their target groups and members, they are capable to address socially and publically important objectives.
NGOs are called to bolster democratic values and norms in the minds of people, contribute to the increase of political and legal culture and high spirituality, civic involvement and national identity of the population, emphasized the participants of the forum.
Constructively interacting with the state authorities and administration, they have been building effective feedback between the society and the state, as a kind of agents of interests of various segments of the population.
Democratic reforms in promoting the establishment and development of NGOs in Uzbekistan are carried out systematically, consistently and gradually with an eye to all peculiarities of domestic development and increase of political and legal culture of the population.
For a short period, Uzbekistan has taken scaled measures to build a system of independent and sustainable NGOs that enjoy the trust and support of the general public. The related legal framework of over 200 laws and regulatory acts has been consistently streamlined.
The ‘Concept of enhancing democratic reforms and building civil society in the country’, which was approved by the parliament in November 2010, came as a powerful impetus for strengthening and expanding the scope of activities of NGOs and civil institutions.
The concept has paved the way to adoption of such important laws as ‘On parliamentary control’, ‘On the openness of state authorities and administration’, ‘On social partnership’ and other legal acts that are seen as highly relevant for the dynamic development of NGOs.
In particular, the Law ‘On the openness of state authorities and administration’ has become an important step in strengthening positions of civil institutions, for it provides a broad access for nongovernmental organizations and population to the information on the decisions made by state authorities.
The Law ‘On social partnership' is important in terms of the further development of civil society. The act streamlines the organizational and legal mechanisms of interaction of state bodies with NGOs, strengthens their role in the development and implementation of socio-economic development programs and legislative acts.
The institution of social partnership is called to promote the establishment and effective operation of channels of interaction between the society and the state.
When drafting the bill, experts applied the results of more than 200 conferences, panel discussions, workshops and meetings that had been held in all regions of the country, as well as working visits of Uzbek specialists to Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, South Korea, Japan and other countries.
It is noteworthy that prior to the adoption of the law, the national legislation consisted of more than 30 laws and more than 100 other legal acts that regulated certain aspects of interaction between the state and NGOs. The legislation lacked a unified legal act that would envisage a coherent system of forms, principles and mechanisms of interaction between authorities and NGOs, as well as stipulate the rights and obligations of bоth parties, which are settled in various legislative acts.
The study of foreign experience of Australia, UK, Germany, Canada, USA, France, Sweden and Japan has shown the absence of a unified act of legislation regulating the issues of interaction of the state with NGOs in developed democracies.
Therefore, the new law is not just important from the practical point of view, but also has the enduring socio-political significance on the international scale. It defines basic principles and scope of social partnership, reinforces this concept as the interaction of state bodies with NGOs and other civil society institutions.
The law stipulates social support and scale up of civic involvement, employment, development of small business and private entrepreneurship, environmental and public health, upbringing of harmoniously developed generation, protection of mother and child health, women's rights, enhancemnent of the legal culture of population and other issues as the main directions of social partnership.
The document clarifies and delineates the rights and responsibilities of state bodies, NGOs and other civil society institutions. It also specifies organizational, legal, procedural mechanisms of interaction of state bodies and NGOs, forms and methods of NGO involvement in addressing socially important problems and intensification of socio-political, public and business involvement of citizens.
In order to facilitate the further development of NGOs, in 2013, Uzbekistan implemented measures to simplify the procedure of their registration and reporting, and streamline organizational and legal mechanisms of their interaction with state authorities. State fees for their state registration were significantly reduced, just like the terms of consideration of their registration applications by judicial authorities.
The creation of an effective system of state support for civil institutions was an important stimulus for expansion of NGOs and ensuring their financial stability. In 2008, the Oliy Majlis founded the Public Fund for Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions, and the Parliamentary Commission to manage the Fund’s assets. Members of the Commission, deputies and senators determine the feasibility and size of project financing.
The Parliamentary Commission has allowed to not just ensure the targeted and equitable distribution of funds that are allocated from the government budget to support the ‘third sector’, but also fruitfully influenced on streamlining of organizational, technical and economic capacity of NGOs, significantly increasing their quantity and quality.
Over the past seven years, the Public Fund under the Oliy Majlis has allocated 47.7 billion soums in the form of subsidies, grants and social orders through a transparent, open, targeted and, most importantly, democratic distribution of funds that are annually allocated as part of the adoption of the government budget to support NGOs and other institutions of civil society in implementation of various social projects. It is noteworthy that funding of grant projects of NGOs has significantly increased. For instance, this year’s budget has envisaged allocating 4.8 billion soums in the form of grants to support NGO projects, which is almost 50% of the total funds allocated by the Public Fund.
Such a support of initiatives of civil institutions has empowered the implementation of hundreds projects in health, education, environmental protection, development of business and home-based work, enhancement of the legal culture in the society, education of harmoniously developed generation.
The Parliamentary Commission is not limited by Public Fund asset management, but also holds meetings in the regions, thereby ensuring broad public involvement in the discussions on the development and improvement of NGOs’ pertformance, and assisting NGOs in enhancing cooperation with local public authorities.
Today, the diverse NGOs make up the basis of civil society. They ensure a balance of interests of the state and society, help to identify pressing social economic and humanitarian problems, mobilize the society for their solution, promoting the implementation of citizens’ potential. In the last five years alone, the number of NGOs has grown by 1.6 times, exceeding 8,400.
Civil society in Uzbekistan has been developing in two mutually complementary directions. On the one hand, favorable regulatory conditions have pushed the development of the corresponding infrastructure - self-government bodies, nongovernmental organizations, the media, public bodies and foundations, trade unions and political parties, and other civil institutions that support citizens in exercising their interests, and act as intermediaries in cooperation between the state and society.
On the other hand, they have been strengthening the civic position of the people, increasing their social activity, and the willingness to be involved in constructive transformations.
It is important that civil society institutions have covered big cities and small towns. The scope of their daily focus covers different areas like education, health, environment and nature protection, human rights, and many others.
At the current stage of formation of civil society in Uzbekistan, nongovernmental organizations are actively interacting with state authorities and administration in addressing relevant problems of socio-economic development and humanitarian issues through the introduction of legal mechanisms of social partnership. Empowered by the Law ‘On social partnership’, public commissions on social partnership under regional councils of people’s representatives determine priority areas of cooperation, consider initiatives, draw attention of state authorities to existing problems, and involve civil society institutions to the implementation of territorial government programs.
For instance, in 2015, 612 NGOs implemented various items of the national program the Year of Attention and Care for Senior Generation.
In the current year, 352 NGOs and other civil society institutions like Women's Committee of Uzbekistan, PYM Kamolot, Mahalla Charity Foundation and many others are involved in the implementation of the national program the Year of Mother and Child Health and corresponding territorial programs. It has become a tradition that annual national NGO forums in Uzbekistan are attended by representatives of government agencies, ministries and departments, who discuss pressing issues, sign agreements and memorandums on social partnership in various fields.
According to the IIMFCS studies, 72% of nongovernmental organizations have taken part in the discussions of regulatory acts for the past four years. NGO activists are members of 50 permanent national inter-ministerial commissions (councils, working groups), which were established under the resolutions of the head of state and government. Largely initiated by public structures, joint events of NGOs and government agencies have been popular.
The conference participants came to conclusion that Uzbekistan had laid socio-economic, socio-political and legal foundation for the social partnership as an important mechanism for regulating relations between the state and social institutions.
The conference scrutinized the experience of foreign countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, India, Canada, France, South Korea, Japan and others, on how they create favorable conditions for development of social partnership.
Following the discussion, the participants pointed out to the relevance of further expansion of public participation in NGO activities, creation of conditions for the professional development of managers and employees of these organizations, the formation of additional stable sources of own funding. They emphasized the need for the development of social protection system for NGO employees, as well as mechanisms of stimulating qualified staff.
It is important to further strengthen and develop the institutional mechanisms of social partnership between NGOs and government agencies in addressing urgent problems of socio-economic and public development of the country, as well as raise the level of consolidation of relevant nongovernmental organizations. The participants elaborated specific proposals and recommendations on all of the abovementioned issues.
John McGregor, OSCE Project Coordinator in Uzbekistan:
I have been delighted to participate in such a representative conference on important and relevant issue of social partnership between NGOs and state authorities. The OSCE has been attaching high priority to the development of civil society in each country.
Having chosen its own model of development, Uzbekistan has proclaimed the principle ‘From a strong state towards a strong civil society’, which has fully proved its value. This is obviously proved by the constant upscale of the role of civil society institutions in the reliable protection of democratic values, human rights and freedoms.
I hope that our cooperation in this area will help Uzbekistan in successful development and strengthening of civil society.
Patricia Lalonde, Research fellow, Institute of Prospective and Security in Europe (France):
Civil institutions are the bridge between the government and the population. The recently adopted laws in Uzbekistan have been contributing to a more open and closer interaction between the authorities and public structures, particularly NGOs. The forum demonstrates a willingness to raise this cooperation to a higher level, and ensure an effective partnership.
Govind Kumar Inakhiya, Associate Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jammu University (India):
The adoption itself of the Law ‘On social partnership’ shows how the state and society are interested in cooperation. The legal act has been effectively implemented. Effective interaction of state authorities and administration and civil society institutions provides a balance of interests in the society. I think this unique experience should be used in other countries.
Margaret Skok, Senior Research Fellow, the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Global Security and Policy Program (Canada):
The measures undertaken by Uzbekistan to develop public associations and create equal opportunities for them are highly commended. In your country, NGOs have every opportunity to implement their initiatives in support for people.
The specifics of the Uzbek model of development of civil society institutions are very interesting: the government strongly supports any initiative aimed at involvement of ordinary citizens in making vital decisions.
Nailya Rezyapova, Head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Office for Uzbekistan:
Our foundation has been operating in Uzbekistan for 20 years, supporting the projects that promote the development of civil society.
The role of NGOs in the Uzbek society has been increasingly growing, as exemplified by the performance of trade unions, women's organizations, youth, veterans.
I am impressed by how you streamline the legal framework on the development of civil institutions, their interaction with state authorities. This is the reason why NGOs’ activity is expanding, and their number is growing every year.
Byung Hyun Sub, Professor, Asia-Pacific Research Center at Hanyang University (South Korea):
Civil society in Uzbekistan has been consistently developing. It is on the right track and plays an important role in democratization processes in the country. The interaction of the state and civil society has a positive impact on the social activity of citizens. State support promotes the revitalization and establishment of new NGOs that are aimed at the modernization and sustainable development of society. This positive experience is worthy of study and adoption in other countries.
Naoto Yamauchi, Professor of Public Economics, Osaka University (Japan):
The level of development of the state directly depends on the level of civil society institutions. The importance Uzbekistan attaches to reforms in legislation is of great interest for foreign experts.
The conference was very relevant, because the participants learned about the unique experience of Uzbekistan in the development of social partnership between the government and NGOs. The related law suggests that the republic has prepared the space for effective social partnership. It is very important that the legal act clearly defines the boundaries and mechanisms of interaction between civil institutions and government agencies in the implementation of socio-economic development programs, solution of humanitarian problems, protection of the rights, freedoms and interests of different strata of the population.