Romania, August 15, 2004

STRENGTHENING THE BASIS FOR NGO-GOVERNMENT COOPERATION IN ROMANIA

 

Anca Giurgiu

Impact of the Accession Process

Romania is among the states in the process of accession to the European Union (EU). The target date for concluding preparations for accession is January 1, 2007. By this date Romania will have to adopt the EU's acquis communautaire, i.e. harmonise its domestic legal framework with EU legislation.

Promoting Partnership

To this end, the government has launched the National Program for the Adoption of the Aquis (NPAA) which presents the short- and medium-term priorities in the fields of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and protection of minorities, and measures for strengthening the capacity of the public administration and of the institutional framework. Strengthening the government-citizen relationship and supporting participation of citizens in the decision-making process as well as ensuring governmental transparency are the main responsibilities assumed by the Romanian government through the NPAA.

In terms of acquis implementation, the government implicitly acknowledges the role of civil society in providing accurate information to the public, the local and central public administration authorities, and other institutions and organisations regarding progress in accession negotiations and the benefits and costs of accession.

Within the Romanian government a Department for Institutional and Social Analysis has been established. This structure aims to promote the government strategy related to partnership with NGOs, ensure the transparency of government actions, and ensure dialogue between the Prime Minister and Romanian civil society.

Improving CSO Capacity

Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Romania still have major development needs, both in terms of institutional and operational capacity, which directly affect their ability to act as reliable partners of the government in the process of developing and implementing public policies, including the acquis communautaire. A variety of factors contribute to the low credibility of CSOs, which has remained at similar levels for the past few years. Consequently, there is a continuous attempt to improve the capacity and credibility of the sector in order to better serve community needs and interests. Strengthening the institutional capacity of organisations in sectors relevant to acquis implementation is another means of addressing this need.

In its 2000, 2001 and 2002 regular reports, the European Commission took note of the considerable progress the country has made in consolidating and deepening the stability of its institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, but at the same time emphasized the need for civil society to become an active and efficient actor both in the reform and accession processes.

Therefore, the Phare assistance for civil society development was continued, ensuring that the NGO sector acquired not only the necessary management and implementation skills but a legislative and fiscal environment which would allow the NGO sector to operate effectively.

Latest Developments Concerning the Legal Environment

Regarding the legal framework creating the basis for cooperation between NGOs and public authorities, two normative acts were adopted which generated a lively debate within the Third Sector and were the basis for intense, concerted action.

Clarifying Public Benefit Status

One of these acts is Government Ordinance (G.O.) 37/2003, modifying G.O. 26/2000 which regulates the establishment and functioning of NGOs. The framework legislation (G.O. 26/2000) establishes that NGOs may be granted "public benefit status" according to a set of criteria which will encourage the organisations to actually become more visible and accountable. Until now, only 13 organisations have obtained this status.

Attempting to clarify the public benefit status regulations in G.O. 26/2000, G.O 37/2003 introduced a special provision on NGO access to public funds, whether local or central, which led to several interpretations. If the text is interpreted as requiring NGOs to have public benefit status in order to access public funds, this might hinder sustainability of the sector and the development of partnership between NGOs and public authorities.

It should be mentioned that the ministries have started to develop their own set of criteria for granting public utility status to the NGOs acting in their areas of competency. We have identified six ministries and central agencies of the government which have so far released such set of criteria. It has to be mentioned that the criteria are very strict and that public utility status involves a significant logistical and even financial effort on behalf of NGOs.

Accrediting Social Service NGOs

Another extremely important law is G.O. 68/2003, a new legal act which introduces the obligation for all providers of social services, either public or private, to be accredited in order to function. Although it introduces for the first time the possibility of sub-contracting services to NGOs, the ordinance has clear shortcomings in a variety of provisions as they entail increased control and intrusion of the state into the activities of NGOs in the social field (i.e. the compulsory criteria for establishment and functioning of those NGOs will be determined by the government, based on proposals of the Ministry of Social Affairs).

Organisations which shouldreceive accreditation to performcertain activities in the social field (which fallunder the purview of G.O. 68) cannot function any more without this accreditation because in thelaw governing associations and foundations there is a provisionstating thatwhere special accreditation is required by the law an organisation cannot be established or function without it. So, in short, if a social NGO does not obtain accreditation, then the sanction is dissolution.

Due to the impact of this law on the mere existence and functioning of a great number of NGOs, it is critical that all instruments for implementing the ordinance (methodological norms, the procedures for accreditation, the compulsory criteria for establishment and functioning, the quality standards) be worked out in cooperation with NGOs. It is also important to involve NGOs in the process of monitoring, evaluation and control instituted by the law, so that representatives of NGOs are part of the commissions responsible for this activity.

CSOs are pleased that the state plans to accredit NGOs for the services they offer. This measure ensures that the beneficiary's rights are not infringed and, in this respect, the state has a legitimate interest in safeguarding the inalienable right of the beneficiary to obtain the best possible services and not be abused. Nevertheless, G.O. 68/2003 has a series of provisions - including compulsory criteria for establishment and functioning - which constitute an intrusion of the state upon the activities of social service NGOs. These criteria are to be determined by the government on the recommendation of the Ministry of Labour. No consultation with NGOs is specified.

The Civil Society Development Foundation (CSDF) recently organised a seminar where, besides representatives of NGOs, there was also a representative of the Ministry of Labour. The discussions focused on what could be done to involve NGOs in the process of developing the norms and instruments for implementation of the law. Therefore, CSDF set up an open and horizontal structure which will allow the expression of all opinions, interests, and concerns related to this normative act. An invitation was issued to all interested NGOs to join this structure. It is hoped that most of the negative aspects of the ordinance can be ironed out and that the law will represent a step ahead as was originally intended.

Anca Giurgiu is Program Manager, Citizens Advice Bureaux Component, at the Civil Society Development Foundation in Bucharest.
E-mail: => ancag@fdsc.ro
Web: => www.fdsc.ro

First published in SEAL (Social Economy and Law Journal), Winter 2003 - Spring 2004. See => http://www.efc.be/publications/sealabstract.html .
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