On April 19, by the decree of the head of state Ilham Aliyev, a public legal entity “Agency for State Support of Non-Governmental Organizations of the Republic of Azerbaijan” was established based on the Council for State Support of Non-Governmental Organizations under the President. The document notes that the Decree of the President on December 13, 2007 “On improving management in the field of state support for non-governmental organizations in the Republic of Azerbaijan and the creation of the Council for State Support for Non-Governmental Organizations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan” was canceled. Thus, the Agency for State Support of Non-Governmental Organizations (the Agency) became the legal successor of the Council for State Support for Non-Governmental Organizations under the President, and the rights and obligations, as well as the property of the organization was transferred to the Agency. Another decree of the head of state approved the “Charter of the Agency for State Support of Non-Governmental Organizations of the Republic of Azerbaijan”.Another decree of the head of state approved the “Charter of the Agency for State Support of Non-Governmental Organizations of the Republic of Azerbaijan”. So what will change with the replacement of the Council by the Agency? Will it be able to improve the work of the NGO sector, which has been paralyzed since 2014?Mirali Huseynov, chair of the “Study of Democracy” Public Association, tells about it in his interview with ASTNA.
– By the Presidential Decree, on the basis of the Council for State Support of Non-Governmental Organizations, a public legal entity “Agency for State Support of Non-Governmental Organizations of the Republic of Azerbaijan” was created. What will change?
Mir?li Hüseynov- To assess what will change, it would be more correct to determine first the purpose of the changes. In the official justification, this is presented as “increasing the role of non-governmental organizations in the life of the state and society, organizing their activities in accordance with the challenges of the new era, improving the organizational and legal framework and mechanisms of state support carried out in this area.” That is, the reason is changes in management. This can be seen from the well-known presidential decree of April 19. The decree emphasizes the improvement of management in the field of state support of non-governmental organizations in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Replacement of the organizational and legal form by the Council of the Agency and giving this Agency the status of a public legal entity was chosen as a form of improving management. The main difference here is that the agency has a more independent legal status and the ability to receive funding from other sources, that is, the main change is in the form of management.
-Which of the principles of the Agency’s activity distinguishes the activity of the Council?
-The biggest difference is manifested in the organization of management in these institutions. It should be noted with regret that this distinction is more attracting attention due to increased centralization and disregard of the will of civil society. The will of democracy and civil society, present in the organization of the Council for State Support to NGOs, is not visible in the agency. If at least formally the NGO Council was formed based on elections, and the elected persons were appointed by the President, now NGOs do not participate in the formation of the agency and they are appointed directly by the President. It is also unclear based on what criteria the candidates for the supervisory board of the agency will be determined, by whom these candidates will be presented. For an organization whose main mission is to build a democratic civil society, such an organization is by no means desirable.
-What positive and negative changes can we see when comparing the charter of the Agency and the charter of the Council?
– The statutes of both structures are significantly similar in content. In particular, rights and obligations are repeated with very few exceptions and they simply differ in the form of expression. In view of the fact that we have already talked about negative changes, it is now appropriate to note positive changes as well. As the main positive change, we can note the empowerment of the Agency’s Supervisory Board with broader powers. In the previous management (Council), the chair had more powers; in the Agency the supervisory board, having broader powers, also exercises control over the executive director. Having a collegial body with strong powers is an important condition for transparency and accountability. How effective this can be will be seen in the near future.
-Why are money allocated from the budget for these institutions? Is it normal?
-Where civil society is weak, government support for non-governmental organizations should be considered satisfactory. Even in the most powerful societies, the state is unable to identify and solve the problems of society on its own. Practice shows that NGOs are more flexible, active and economical in comparison with state bodies. There is a wealth of experience associated with the fact that by channeling the energy and contribution of citizens to solving the problems of society, very great results are achieved. It is perfectly normal that by stimulating and supporting civic associations, the state lays the foundation for civic initiatives and encourages them. It is unacceptable for such support to serve political power or corporate rather than public interest.
– Can the Agency subsequently become a Fund or a Ministry?
-We are not right if we look for the connection between organizational form and successful results. Are all existing ministries or government committees functioning well? Of course not. The important thing is how effectively the management is organized. Without good governance, the form of incorporation does not really matter. Even with its present status, the agency can function quite efficiently. For this, only the sincere intention of the authorities and the correct organization of management are enough.
-Can the change in form cause some changes in essence? Would not it be better to fix the situation that changed after 2014 than to create an agency? Is it possible to bring to normal the legislation on NGOs and grants, which has changed since then, so that civil society can function normally?
-You yourself called the existing changes as “change of form”. Along with the form, changes must be made to the content so that there are hopes of positive results. For this, first, it is necessary to abolish the restrictions introduced into the legislation on NGOs in 2013-2014. Because of these restrictions, such a “change of form” will not change the situation for the better. Unfortunately, the authorities seem to be not even happy about fulfilling their obligations in this direction. Although the National Action Plan for the Promotion of Open Government provides for the improvement of legislation on NGOs, there has been no progress in this direction.
– What steps should be taken to rebuild the NGO sector?
– The problems of the NGO sector were mainly caused by restrictive additions and changes made to the legislation in 2013-2014. The solution to the problem lies in the removal of these restrictions, the liberalization of legislation and the creation of a favorable operating environment. Unfortunately, at the current stage, the political authorities do not seem to be interested in their implementation. The basis for this conclusion is that the discussions held in September last year by the plenipotentiary of the President Hikmet Hajiyev with NGOs were not crowned with success. Despite the atmosphere of pessimism and despair, I still see the solution to the problem in dialogue with the authorities. As a civil society, we must continue our efforts to convince the authorities that we are important partners for them.
Source: Turan News Agency