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NGOs cultivated to back the authorities?

15.07.2013 | www.dw.de

Activists from a Donetsk oblast civic movement accuse the authorities of cultivating puppet NGOs in order to imitate development of civil society.

A number of civic organizations in the Donetsk oblast strongly criticize the authorities for squandering public funding; lack of transparency in distributing financing; and corrupt setups. The latest reason for such accusations is a draft regional plan for 2013-2015 which the Regional Council is soon likely to approve. Seven civic organizations, headed by the regional branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU], have set out their concerns in an open resolution which they plan to send to the Coordination Council on the Development of Civil Society under the President.

The resolution asserts that the draft programme was quietly penned by little known experts in the Regional Administration itself without broad public discussion.

Svitlana Zakrevska from the NGO Alliance says that the lack of competition for funding this or that project makes them suspect that the authorities are using public funding to support their own puppet organizations.  These are in the overwhelming majority in the Public Council. “You get the impression that some spare money appeared in the budget and the authorities have decided to share it out among themselves. And they’ve called it a programme of support for civil society”.

Filter out dissident voices

Serhiy Tkachenko from the local CVU says that the problem goes deeper than just this programme and lies in the work of the Public Council itself. These public councils are consultative advisory bodies attached to regional administrations. They are supposed to be there to take part in governance and to carry out civic control over the activities of the authorities. In fact, he says, the authorities have effectively created another department which they call a public council, but in fact completely control.  Less servile NGOs with their own position or who could be powerful opponents are weeded out. He calls this a mockery of democracy.

The local authorities reject such accusations.

Sociologist Yaroslav Pasko believes that there is a battle underway for influence on the public between the authorities and those NGOs able to demonstrate their own position.  The authorities are carrying out a kind of dialogue, he says, with certain groups which it chooses. These can be friends, relatives, business partners. The authorities are thus cultivating their own civic bureaucrats who put their hand up when needed.

Pasko also criticizes civil society which he sees as too amorphous to really be able to expect the authorities to take them into account.  Just in the Donetsk oblast, he comments, there are almost 1500 NGOs, yet only an isolated few are really working and have impact. 

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