WED 13 - 11 - 2019
 
Date: May 23, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanese civil society’s need for classification
Dima El Hassan

Civil society has been defined as the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that reflect the interests and will of citizens. The U.N. Advisory Group on civil society organizations and Aid Effectiveness has defined them to include “all nonmarket and nonstate organizations outside of the family in which people organize themselves to pursue shared interests in the public domain.” Examples include community-based organizations and village associations, environmental groups, women’s rights groups, farmers’ associations, faith-based organizations, labor unions, co-operatives, professional associations, chambers of commerce, independent research institutes and not-for-profit media.The term “non-governmental organization,” officially coined in Article 71 of the newly formed United Nations Charter in 1945, states that an NGO can be any kind of organization provided that it is independent from government influence and is not-for-profit.

The Global Journal estimates that there are 10 million such organizations worldwide. If these organizations were a country, they would have the fifth-largest economy in the world. According to John Hopkins University, in the U.S. alone, one in 10 people works for an NGO, contributing a combined 5.3 percent to the gross domestic product, and making the NGO workforce the third-largest U.S. industry, right after retail trade and manufacturing.

Non-governmental organizations are developing in an influential and vibrant way. Today, their roles are expanding – NGOs are significant as facilitators and innovators, and as service providers and advocates for people’s rights and wishes, while attempting to solve societal challenges and support local, national and global governance.

Amid a world plagued by constant crises, socio-economic and geopolitical changes, public trust in political leaders is declining, and in most developing countries so is the trust in governmental institutions themselves.

This calls for an urgent need of a resilient dynamism that put simply, civil society organizations can provide. By partnering with government, the private sector and international organizations – while still advocating for people’s needs – the power, impact of and trust in civil society is growing.

In Lebanon, the latest data provided by the of Interior Ministry shows 8,311 NGOs are registered in Lebanon.

Lebanon has been long known for its vibrant and dynamic civil society organizations throughout its history, working on issues of development, governance and democratization. However, there is still, despite this context, no accurate data on the nature of these organizations, their function, scope of work and impact.

The main cause is an outdated law on associations that goes back to Ottoman rule in 1909.

This is the only legal context in Lebanon that regulates their formation and work.

Lebanese NGOs can be registered in the Interior Ministry or the Youth and Sports Ministry. The Social Affairs Ministry also has a record of registered NGOs which it supports.

Although the law has given birth to a great number of organizations, a major gap governing the world of NGOs in Lebanon is they lack proper classification or a set of criteria that define their work.

With an outdated law on associations, a lack of clear categorization and almost no prerequisite for legal establishment, the sector is in an unfortunate chaos.

Many registered NGOs are not operational, while others have major internal problems such as the missing policies and procedures, power changes, and a lack of democracy, transparency, accountancy and accountability. What can be done to resolve this?

The only way to restore order and so protect this essential group that has survived and come to the rescue for Lebanon during times of crises, is a new law that calls for the categorization and proper accreditation of NGOs in Lebanon. There is pressing need for this because there is no room for good governance without a law behind.

We cannot have true partnership and coordination between NGOs when the sector is not well defined or classified.

This classification could include criteria such as sector, focus, history, size (both financially and in terms of programs), level of formality, values, or theoretical frameworks. They may be then valued based on their representation, technical expertise, capacity building, service delivery and social functions.

An accreditation scheme for NGOs must be established to enable organizations to participate in any development program in an organized and transparent way, and crucially, become eligible to receive funding from national and international donors, essential for long-term sustainability.

The process of accreditation would be an in-depth assessment of Lebanese NGOs, their role and measuring their impact on development, governance and democracy practices in Lebanon. Lebanon urgently needs this. Otherwise, the country will fall into the pitfall of “Lebanese” corruption from which we cannot return.

Dima El Hassan is Director of Programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 23, 2018, on page 3.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
 
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