Chisinau, Republic of Moldova, 9-11 November 2015
Preparation of the visit by the Conference of INGOs to Chisinau was carried out with the support of the INGOs holding participatory status, which were asked by the Conference President to provide the contact details of their national members in the Republic of Moldova. A partnership agreement was concluded with the European Institute for Political Studies as visit organiser. Around 20 NGOs were contacted by the Institute for Political Studies, and this list was supplemented by the network of NGOs which work with the institute. Three sectors of activity were covered: social services, democratic citizenship and young people. The institute also arranged meetings with the national authorities, in particular representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, representatives of the Ministry for Youth and Sport, the Deputy Education Minister and team, the Deputy Minister for Labour, Family and Social Protection and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament. We also held two meetings with a total of 13 NGOs.
Given the high-quality exchanges which we had with the national authorities and the NGOs, the visit achieved its objectives. The discussions identified the achievements, opportunities and challenges relating to the process of the NGOs’ participation in political decision-making. The expected results of the visit were as follows:
- gain understanding of the context in which Moldovan NGOs operate and make recommendations to boost the participation of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country;
- analyse how the activities of the Conference of INGOs can support the relevant processes;
- report back on the national context in which NGOs operate so that greater account is taken of it within the Council of Europe.
The delegation of the Conference of INGOs comprised Anna Rurka, President of the Conference, Thierry Mathieu, Vice-Chair of the Democracy, Social Cohesion and Global Challenges Committee of the Conference, Beatriz Collantes, member of the Expert Council on NGO Law, Paddy Hennelly, member of the Council of Europe’s Advisory Council on Youth, and Jane Crozier, Council of Europe Civil Society Division.
The visit by the Conference of INGOs to Chisinau took place from 9 to 11 November 2015, during a period of political instability. Since April, anti-government protest movements had been sweeping the country, with political parties, NGOs and civil society demonstrating repeatedly and continuously against corruption and against increases in gas and electricity prices. It should be noted that the demonstrators included people of all ages, who were demonstrating under EU flags, thereby indicating their desire to move closer to European structures. It was rather strange that the pro-European public were demonstrating against the political party and coalition which are also pro-European. In November, the political situation was causing considerable concern for the NGOs and the national authorities: what repercussions would the corruption affairs which people were protesting against have on the association agreement signed with the EU in June 2014? Would international funding still be accessible to the NGOs, or would it be frozen? It was not surprising to hear these questions, as the reforms which the Republic of Moldova has to carry out in connection with its political and economic integration with the EU are also supposed to improve the way NGOs operate and strengthen their role in democratic processes.
Under the legislation of the Republic of Moldova, the operation of NGOs is governed by three laws: the law on public associations (1996), the law on foundations (1999) and the law on philanthropy and sponsorship (2002). According to the report by the Expert Council on NGO Law on the internal governance of non-governmental organisations (OING Conf/Exp (2010)1), Article 41 of the constitution provides that Moldovan citizens are free to associate in parties and other socio-political organisations, which must contribute to the definition and expression of citizens’ political will and take part in the election process under the rule of law. However, the constitution does not mention the aspect of freedom of association concerning essentially non-political objectives.
Since 2008, the Republic of Moldova has drawn up strategies for the development of civil society (initially for 2009-2011). The second strategy (2012-2015), which was adopted by parliament in 2011, was accompanied by an action plan for its implementation. The strategy for the development of civil society for the period from 2012 to 2015 demonstrates the commitment of the Republic of Moldova to improve the conditions for the development of civil society, taking account of the principles of transparency and independence of civil society from state authorities. The strategy was drawn up in partnership with the National Council of NGOs, with support from the Moldova Civil Society Strengthening Programme (MCSSP) implemented by FHI 360 (a non-profit human development organisation).
The Republic of Moldova has a population of 3.6 million, almost 25% of whom live in the capital. In 2010, there were 7 000 registered CSOs, but only about 25% of them had implemented projects in the three years prior to the relevant study (IDIS, 2014). In 2014, the Justice Ministry registered 988 new CSOs, bringing the total number of organisations on the register of non-commercial organisations to 9 225. In 2014, amendments were made to the Civil Code concerning the registration and winding up of CSOs. The amendments simplified and shortened the process of winding up legal entities from two years to a maximum of four months (The 2014 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, United States Agency for International Development Bureau for Europe and Eurasia). Perhaps that will narrow the discrepancy between registered and active NGOs by enabling non-active NGOs to complete the administrative procedures more easily in the event of cessation of their activities.
The NGOs we met stressed that NGOs’ activities were funded by international sources (USAID, EU) or outside donors in 80-90% of cases. Approximately 33% of financial resources come from members’ dues, 23% from public funding and almost 25% from services which NGOs provide (IDIS, 2014). On account of lack of funding, it would appear that Moldovan NGOs adapt their activities to respond to calls for proposals from funding bodies. For many years, the funders’ priorities focused on the environment. Now the focus has switched to democratic governance and human rights. There seems to be an urgent need for the diversification of funding and greater financial equilibrium for Moldovan NGOs. More balanced distribution of funding would enable the NGOs to conduct their activities in all areas of public policies in the longer term and remove any public suspicions about venal intentions among NGOs.
The NGOs believe that the current economic conditions are detrimental to the development of civil society initiatives. It would appear that the difficult economic environment and a lack of infrastructure are preventing NGOs from developing their activities in rural areas. Indeed, 90% of them are administratively located in the capital.
The legislative process for the adoption of legislation enabling taxpayers to donate 2% of their taxes to CSOs was in progress. The “2% law” is an advance because it enables the whole of society gradually to be involved in non-commercial development here by allowing them to choose the CSO to which the government will pay the money. A mechanism of this kind has already been introduced in several other countries such as Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. The measure gradually boosted the development of NGOs and made them more professional by obliging them to work on their public image, to pay attention to their credibility in their dealings with donors and to highlight their expertise stemming from their presence on the ground and their closeness to the public. Obviously, provision also has to be made for a mechanism to ensure transparency so that the donors know how the money is spent. Moreover, the government must also ensure fair competition between NGOs (in particular for organisations with limited presence in rural areas).
The national authorities said that Moldovan NGOs suffer from a lack of representativeness and that it is always the same people who are involved in the voluntary sector. However, the NGOs highlighted a major difficulty in terms of a lack of interest on the part of civil society in becoming involved in the voluntary sector. This also applies to youth organisations, where the impact is compounded by high levels of emigration among young Moldovans. The 2% law could help change this situation. We hope that this approach will prevail over the criticisms made by some local authorities.
The Republic of Moldova is a country which encourages freedom of expression of civil society and does not prevent its citizens from organising peaceful demonstrations. In general, we noted that NGOs have access to the media and are involved by the latter in public debate. Some NGOs believe that this “ease” of expression and the accessibility of policymakers who interact with NGOs on the social media actually serve to dissemble democratic processes because, in the final analysis, NGOs’ contributions are not really taken into account in the decision-making process. The survey conducted by the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) (2014) also found that the social dialogue between the authorities and CSOs was superficial. The NGOs expect to play a greater part in implementing the government’s strategies or the laws passed by parliament. At present, the practice in parliament during the legislative process is to request three types of report: one from the government, one from members of parliament and one from NGOs.
To increase their representativeness, the NGOs join together in federations. The National Council of NGOs in the Republic of Moldova, comprising around 30 NGOs from different sectors, is very active. Its tasks include facilitating co-operation between the public authorities and NGOs in drafting and following up legislation and increasing the transparency and raising the profile of NGOs. It plays an important role in public debate. However, some NGO representatives accuse it of failing to interact properly with organisations located outside Chisinau. The organisations concerned feel that they are not properly taken into account by the bodies representing NGOs. NGOs which do not have sufficient experience cannot propose “competitive” projects within the various NGO platforms.
On the National Youth Council (a member of the European Youth Forum), the main sectors of activity are the media (association of young journalists), the fight against discrimination, education and welfare services, culture, democracy and efforts to combat corruption. The national authorities are currently setting up local youth councils. The NGOs wish to be offered co-management of these councils.
Public consultations held via websites set up by the national authorities are not very effective. Lively exchanges between the NGOs on the subject showed that the authorities receive few proposals by this means, as NGOs are not able to keep track of several websites. An email alert system for the opening of public consultation processes would seem to be an easy solution to implement. The above-mentioned survey by IDIS Viitorul (2014) found that 89% of the CSOs surveyed believe that meetings, conferences and public debates are a better way of influencing the government’s political programme. The preferred forms of consultation seem to be meetings, followed by reports sent with sufficient time for amendments by NGOs.
While wishing to have a “vibrant” organised civil society, the national authorities emphasised that further efforts are needed before a co-decision process can be established. To argue the point, the authorities referred to absences of NGOs from consultation meetings and low levels of submission of contributions. But perhaps the reasons for these absences should be analysed. The government’s thematic agenda may not be the same as that of the NGOs. We also noted that many NGOs had contributed to the law on equal opportunities for women and men, the consultations concerning the ratification of the Lanzarote Convention, the laws on human trafficking, preventing and combating domestic violence, minorities and judicial reform. Perhaps more explicit information from the authorities about what the consultations involved would bring about greater participation. What are the benefits for NGOs which take part in the public consultation processes?
The NGOs drew our attention to the situation of organised civil society in Transnistria. Some NGOs based in Chisinau conduct activities in that self-proclaimed republic, the independence of which has not been recognised by any state to date. Several cases already ruled on by, or pending before, the European Court of Human Rights demonstrate that violations of human rights in the region are frequent and states’ efforts to implement relevant judgments are very limited. INGOs have protested about illegal arrests of human rights defenders, harassment of NGOs and cases of torture in the region.
We found a lack of support for Moldovan NGOs operating in Transnistria. The various reports and accounts demonstrate that undue pressure is exerted on human rights defenders there. A law on foreign agents was passed in 2014 concerning NGOs which receive foreign funding (see memorandum by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders). However, we also noted that the public perception of NGOs funded by foreign donors and funders, describing them as “foreign agents”, goes beyond the scope of a law. It reflects divisions in civil society concerning the policy directions presented to it.
We met a determined, dynamic and young organised civil society which wishes to work in a democratic environment conducive to respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The representatives of the various ministries whom we also met were open and direct during the discussions and were not afraid to address sensitive issues. The authorities are deploying efforts to train NGO leaders, as well as officials, who the representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs said must first be trained and prepared for subsequent ratification of new international legal instruments.
The governance crisis currently affecting the Republic of Moldova could be an opportunity for national NGOs to demonstrate their strengths and their will to carry out transparent democratic changes in line with human rights and the rule of law.
In the light of the above, we encouraged the national authorities and the NGOs publicly to promote positive and impartial experiences of participation in the decision-making process so as to increase the interest of civil society in engagement for the public interest.
We strongly urge the national authorities to implement the strategies approved with a view to the development of NGOs and also to develop short and long-term programmes.
We advise policymakers to strengthen the establishment and operation of NGOs in areas outside the capital, in particular rural areas.
We encourage the national and local authorities to provide more explicit information concerning the issues at stake in public consultation processes and to improve the online consultation system.
We encourage the national and local authorities to step up public information campaigns and promote civic engagement within NGOs.
We encourage donors and funders to give priority to NGO funding based on the quality of the projects proposed rather than the criterion of the size of the NGOs. It is also necessary to ensure a reliable, transparent and fair procedure concerning access to funding.
We urge national and international authorities to step up support for the Moldovan NGOs working with the population of Transnistria.
We encourage local authorities to delegate responsibility to NGOs which have demonstrated their reliability and high standards and to work towards co-management of social organisations at local level.
On behalf of the delegation, I should like to thank Ms Stella Utica, Director of the Institute for Political Studies and her team, as well as the NGOs we met and the national authorities for the quality of the exchanges.
President of the Conference of INGOs