The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Civil Society Organisations in limbo

Mitra Raj
The Civil Society Organization (CSO) Act was enacted during the 87th session of the National Assembly two years ago and the budget approved but much remains to be done as far as the functioning of the authority is concerned.

Without any working space or staff, several non-government organisations eager to register with the CSO authority are still waiting for it to become operational.

“We were informed that the CSO authority was established and so we prepared our by-laws and other documents to register with them. But now, forget the registration, the authority doesn’t even have an office,” said Sonam, a member of a three-year-old charitable organization based in Thimphu.

The reason for the delay in establishment of the authority by nearly two years was because the Act did not specify which ministry should spearhead it. However, the government on March 20 this year gave that responsibility to the Home and Cultural Affairs Ministry. And in accordance with the Act, three members from the Finance Ministry, Home and Cultural Affairs Ministry and the Office of the Attorney General were nominated from the government.

But even that hasn’t moved things forward yet.

“As mentioned in the Act, a separate office manned by the civil servants is supposed to be established. So we can hire an office only after the staff is identified by the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC),” said CSO member-secretary from the Home and Cultural Affairs Ministry, Kinchho Norbu.

“We had submitted manpower requirements to the RCSC in April this year,” he said.

In response, the commission informed them in July that a separate directive from the government was required for the establishment of the authority and the working office.

But, member of the cabinet, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, said that the Act being passed in the National Assembly itself was a go ahead from the government.

“Civil societies are very much a part of the democratic system. And whether it is the RCSC or the home ministry, they should follow the Act,” the Works and Human Settlement minister said.

Even with the government allocating a budget of Nu 800,000 and Danida committing to provide Nu 3.5 million for the establishment, the member-secretary said they have not been able to open up a working office because the staffing factor is still awaiting government approval.

Meanwhile, there are more than 40 applicants listed with the authority waiting to be registered and two interim members from among them. The authority, apart from ensuring transparency and accountability, is expected to help CSOs through donor assistance and build human resource and capacity.

“It would become much easier for us to raise funds if we are registered,” said Sonam Palden who works for a charitable trust that looks after children.

Another member of the authority from the Office of the Attorney General, Sonam Tashi, said, once the applicants are registered, they will be provided with certification and that will give them recognition as a legal entity.

On the other hand, the authority met twice with the stakeholders at two separate meetings in March and September this year. The first meeting was to discuss the formation of the authority and the second, to discuss the draft document on the rules and regulation prepared by a consultant from Vietnam.

“There is nothing much we can do without the office although we have a work plan. Once the office is established we can start our operations,” said Kinchho Norbu.

The Chief Justice, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, along with judiciary officials had drafted the Act in order to specify the roles and responsibilities of the various non-government organisations.

According to the Act, any CSO applying for registration has to submit to the authority details including its objectives, scope of activity, funding sources and geographical area of operation. Once accredited by the authority, the CSO will have to submit its annual report, including audited financial statements for its operation in the country.

CSOs refer to associations, societies, foundations, charitable trusts, non-profit organisations or other entities that are not part of government and do not distribute any income or profits to their members, founders, donors, directors or trustees.

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