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06.02.2009 Feature Article

Setting Standards for NGO/CSOs

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It is impossible to have a conversation about politics, public policy or economic development in Ghana these days without someone mentioning the magic words "civil society" or "Non Governmental Organisational".

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are seen as institutional spaces that are distinct from, and independent of, the state, underpinning the legal provision of freedom of association.

However, it is argued that the quality and efficacy of state regulation of CSOs/NGOs is a significant determinant of the health and vitality of CSOs/NGOs. Proponents of the argument in support of state regulation contend that in a situation where there is no clear delineation of profit-making and non-profit making activity by the state, CSOs/NGOs activities could compound the social polarization and poverty stimulation by a market-driven economy.

The confusion here where non-state actors are regulated by the state can be resolved through a delicate balance between civil society autonomy and state control, where the state respect and protect the rights of its citizens to freedom of association and subject all citizens to the rule of law.

An attempt to provide some level or a regulatory framework was introduced by the state in 1993. This was, however, withdrawn when its efficacy was questioned.

In 2000, the state collaborated with NGOs/CSOs through a series of workshops, seminars and meetings to produce a policy document - Draft National Policy for Strategic Partnership with NGOs/CSOs - to regulate NGO activities in the country. The first document was released in 2000 and revised in 2004.

At a joint meeting between NGOs/CSOs, the government and the Legislative drafter from the Attorney General's Department, it was agreed that the Draft National Policy for Strategic Partnership with NGOs/CSOs would form the basis for sections of the law related to NGOs/CSOs. In 2006, the Government introduced a Trust Bill which included the regulation of NGOs/CSOs. Numerous organizations came together under the platform of the Ghana Association of Private Voluntary Organizations in Development (GAPVOD) and wrote to the Ministry expressing concerns about including NGOs/CSOs within the Trusts Bill.

Prominent among the contributors was Dr. Raymond Atuguba, a law lecturer at the faculty of Law University of Ghana. He conceded that there is the need for some form of regulation of CSOs/NGOs in Ghana however, he objected to including CSOs/NGOs in the draft Trust bill.

"The current regulatory framework for NGOs in Ghana is not working because the regulator of NGOs has its hands full regulating for-profit companies; and because the provisions in the Companies Code for the regulation of NGOs are so far from today's reality that NGOs flout them consistently. It follows that we need a new regulatory regime that facilitates the growth of NGOs as critical actors in Ghana's development agenda," Dr. Atuguba said.

The Ghana Standards Project therefore seeks to establish minimum standards defined by the CSO/ NGO community itself and which enshrine the principles of good and ethical practice. The Ghana Standard project is a project initiated by Pan African Organisation for Sustainable Development (POSDEV)

The Ghana Standards Project was the outcome of a dialogue among three stakeholders in Ghana's development: local - indigenous NGOs, international NGOs and donors working together as a team to address issues of mutual concern in their development relationship-equitable partnership, mutual accountability, credibility of local NGOs/CSOs, and commitment to local capacity development. Two key issues were identified as being critical for effective development practice in Ghana:

a policy and regulatory framework for NGOs and CSOs

the image of NGOs.
The Standard Project came at a time when there was increasing public and state mistrust of NGOs and CSOs as evidenced by recent pronouncements of public officials and media publications of the 'misdeeds' of NGOs.

Also, the project has constituted a fifteen (15) member Standards Commission comprising the heads of local and International NGOs all over the country, with the major role and responsibility of ensuring a peer review process for the award of seals/certificates to peers in compliance with the 35 Standards.

The pilot stage of the project has obtained funding from InterAction, USA and The Commonwealth Foundation, UK and has attracted support from the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) in printing 1000 copies of the Standards for distribution to all stakeholders.

The project has also obtained funding from the UNDP to accomplish all its upcoming activities and also conduct the peer assessments of 15 organizations that have expressed interest in undergoing the process towards self-certification.

The methodology used in assessing the organisations is meetings and interviews. The organisations are assessed on various criteria, legal status, their governance, conflict of interest (integrity of members), financial accountability, resource mobilisation, CSOs/NGOs autonomy, human resources, NGO/CSO work and Public Affair and public Policy.

Public Agenda
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The author has 20 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: PublicAgenda

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