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Kazakh Senate Approves NGO Laws to Increase Civic Engagement
Kazakhstan’s Senate passed a bill on amendments to its legislation regarding the activity of nongovernmental organisations in early November that legislators say is intended to increase civic engagement and strengthen civil institutions.
“In general, adoption of the document provides an opportunity to introduce legal mechanisms for state support of public initiatives. It will also help to increase civic engagement in the development of the nongovernmental sector, the rendering of social services to NGOs and strengthening the institutes of civil society,” said Senator Byrgarym Aitimova, delivering a report, according to the Kazinform news agency.
The updated law brings Kazakhstan’s legislation into compliance with its democratic commitments, Ambassador-at-large of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Usen Suleimen told The Astana Times. It takes into account the concerns of civil society, balancing national security requirements with the core principles of democracy: liberty, equality, accountability and transparency, he said.
Regarding liberty, he said, “after the adoption of the law, NGOs will have free access to public, international and private financing. For the first time in an independent Kazakhstan, NGOs will be able to freely articulate their social position when applying for government grants; i.e., NGOs themselves will propose state social guidelines of the country’s development.”
Equality will ensure equal access for all NGOs to government grants. An operator including government officials and representatives from civil society will be established, and will give NGOs a “significant voice” in which organisations receive funding, Suleimen said. The operator may attract international financing and approve community and business fund raising, reducing dependence on the state and on political officials in Astana, he noted. The operator’s duties will not include monitoring NGOs, he pointed out. The operator will consist of a governing body made up of regularly rotating representatives of the public; an expert council of representatives of independent national and international experts, public figures and representatives of NGOs; an executive body; and an internal audit service, which will control the operator’s financial and economic activities.
“The principle of transparency and accountability, in spite of its democratic nature, has paradoxically become the most controversial point of the proposed legislation,” Suleimen said. “NGOs will have full access to information about the volume and form of financing being allocated by the government, as well as about the mechanisms by which payments are made and distributed under the operator,” he explained.
Transparency and accountability will also be required of NGOs. “This reciprocal transparency has been rejected by [some] NGOs, provoking a paradoxical situation in which NGOs know and see all the financial activities of the government in relation to NGOs and demand more transparency in the distribution of government grants, but reject demands for similar transparency on their own activities.”
Unfortunately, Kazakhstan’s NGO sector often ignores reporting requirements, Suleimen said. “It is to prevent fraud and limit reputation damage to NGOs that we are asking [them] to provide annual information on their activities and to take an active part in the formation of the NGOs Database. This database will be available to the public online. It will raise public awareness of NGOs and improve communications among human rights organisations, the government and the public. This will only better integrate civil society, strengthen its role and improve its visibility within the state.”
NGOs that don’t submit such information will incur an administrative responsibility after one warning. The penalty for not reporting will be a court-imposed fine; further noncompliance could result in a three-month suspension of activities, he said.
Addressing concerns that NGOs working to promote and protect human rights will be hindered, Suleimen said that human rights work is included in the range of NGO activities for which grants can be given. He also noted that no one in the government, including the authorised body for NGOs, has been given the right to terminate the activities of any organisation. Only the courts can do this.
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