Relying on the principle ‘From a strong state to a strong civil society’, Uzbekistan has carried out major work in recent years to pave the way for independent and stable nongovernmental non-profit organizations and other civil society institutions.
The rights and powers of civil institutions, including NGOs, have been expanded in the context of protection of the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of people, and ensuring their active involvement in public management. Provided by the government, favorable conditions, incentives and preferences have expanded the capacity of civil institutions in various spheres of life, contributing to enhancement of the public and socio-economic activity and legal culture.
That was emphasized at the opening of the national stage of the Fourth National Forum of NGOs of Uzbekistan. It took place in Tashkent under the motto ‘With a sense of belonging to the prosperity of the motherland’. The traditional annual platform for constructive dialogue between the government and civil society institutions was organized by the National Association of NGOs of Uzbekistan (NANGOUz), the Independent Institute for Monitoring the Formation of Civil Society Organizations, and other social institutions.
The national forum was preceded by regional stages in Karakalpakstan, all regions and the capital city in late November, which were attended by more than 2,500 representatives of NGOs and government agencies. They highlighted the contribution of nongovernmental organizations in the implementation of programs in education, health, environment, employment, women's rights, social support for vulnerable groups, and others.
The dialogue between government agencies and representatives of public organizations resulted in the elaboration of proposals on the further development of social partnership in the society.
BALANCE OF INTERESTS IN SOCIETY
As noted at the forum, Uzbekistan has been building the strong civil society, which would be capable of protecting human rights and freedoms, and creating conditions for people to implement their potential. The recent rapid and effective development of civil society institutions, including self-government bodies and NGOs, has been contributing to the balance of interests in the society.
The implementation of the principle ‘From a strong state towards a strong civil society was secured by a strong legal foundation, which incorporates more than 250 legislative documents that correspond to the highest democratic requirements and are aimed at free development of civil society institutions.
Initiated by the state’s leader and approved by the parliament, the ‘Concept of enhancing democratic reforms and building the civil society in the country’ has marked a new stage in the revitalization and expansion of the scale of NGO activities, their capacity in public and state management. The implementation of the Concept has allowed quantitative and qualitative increase in the participation of civil society institutions in the state and public construction.
The concept has paved the way for the adoption of pivotal acts over the last five years, including the laws ‘On environmental control’, ‘On transparency of state authorities and administration’, ‘On social partnership’ and other legislative acts, which are essential for the dynamic development of NGOs.
For instance, the Law ‘On transparency of state authorities and administration’ has contributed to strengthening of positions of civil society institutions as it has provided a broad access for people and nongovernmental organizations to information about decision making, especially with regard to the decisions that affect the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of citizens.
The adoption of the Law ‘On social partnership’, which entered into force on January 1, 2015, was an important event. It has defined the forms and mechanisms of cooperation between state bodies and NGOs, as well as settled basic rights and obligations of the parties.
Public commissions on social partnership were organized under regional councils of people’s representatives in different regions as part of practical implementation of the provisions of the legal act. They are called to promote the enhancement of cooperation between NGOs and local government agencies in the implementation of socially and publicly important programs and projects, development of proposals on priority areas of social partnership and monitoring its progress in addressing social and economic issues in certain territories. Along with members of councils of people’s representatives, they involve representatives of regional administrations, judiciary and finance bodies, as well as government agencies, NGOs and other civil society institutions.
The recent regulatory and legal acts have significantly simplified the procedure of organization of NGOs. For instance, the registration fee for NGOs was reduced five times, and logo registration fees were cut by 2.5 times. The period of consideration of their appeals for state registration by judicial authorities was reduced from two to one month.
In order to ensure the financial stability of NGOs, Uzbekistan has built a national infrastructure that provides them with real independence, material and financial support. The Public Fund for Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions, and the Parliamentary Commission for Management of Assets of the Public Fund for Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions were instituted in 2008 under the country's highest legislative body. In 2008-2014, the Fund allocated over 47.7 billion soums to various civil society organizations in accordance with decisions of the Parliamentary Commission, which then were distributed through grant competitions, grants and social orders.
The number of holders of state grants has been growing year by year. In 2014, the Parliamentary Commission supported 176 NGO projects, and 279 - in 2015.
“State support of social projects has not just been contributing to the stability of the society, but also in the increase of the number of enterprising people,” says the Director of Imkon nongovernmental non-profit organization of Navoi region Clara Bobokulova. “Our organization is engaged in the support of women and children, enhancement of their knowledge, capacity development, and contributes to strengthening of the NGO network in the region. We have 400 of them today.”
“We have repeatedly won grant competitions of the Public Fund under the Oliy Majlis,” says the head of the Mashkhur Center in O’zbekiston district of Fergana region Aziza Yuldasheva. “Grants empowered us to carry out projects on support of women and the youth. For example, this year, we have taught 120 women sewing, baking and hairdressing in free courses. We actively cooperate with the local authorities, and self-government bodies. As a result, hundreds of residents of our district have got engaged in the home-based work, thus addressing the issues of employment.”
The indirect funding of public organizations through various benefits and preferences, full or partial exemption from some taxes ranks among the forms of governmental support.
612 NGOs have been involved in the implementation of the national program the Year of Attention and Care for the Senior Generation. Over the past three years, the number of national public organizations that are involved in the implementation of government programs has increased by 1.6 times, and regional – by 1.7 times.
The creation of the infrastructures that would comprehensively support NGOs and ensure their participation in the democratic renewal and modernization of the country has been an intent priority. For instance, the National Association of NGOs of Uzbekistan was founded in 2005. Today, it incorporates more than 500 members, and consolidates their efforts in the implementation of social projects and programs. The association has its resource centers in 12 regions and is regarded as a bridge between the government and NGOs.
The measures taken have contributed to the increase in the number of NGOs by 50% over the last four years. Today, there are more than 8,300 registered NGOs. Despite this growth, the direction of their work over the recent years has not changed much - the largest share has been retained by the organizations supporting entrepreneurship and farming (over 21%), development of democratic institutions (17.6%), sports (13%) and youth (7.6%).
The agenda of the republican stage of the national forum highlighted the issues of increasing the role of NGOs in promoting peace and concord in the society, growing healthy and comprehensively advanced young generation, expanding their involvement in the implementation of projects in environmental protection, as well as development of volunteer and charity activities of citizens is addressing social and humanitarian issues in the field, and others.
The participants drew attention to the study of practical results of involvement of regional public organizations in the development and implementation of national, sectoral and regional programs of social and economic development, in particular the national program the Year of Attention and Care for the Senior Generation, as well as in the development of proposals on addressing the future challenges of the Year of Mother and Child Health.
The forum included panel discussions on the ‘Development of social partnership in women's rights and their involvement in socio-political, socio-economic and cultural life of the country’, ‘Participation of NGOs in the development and implementation of programs on environmental protection and rational use of natural resources, and making their environment protection activities more effective’, ‘Building the volunteering and charity capacity in citizens in addressing social and humanitarian issues in the field’. The discussions were accompanied by presentations and produced interesting proposals and recommendations.
The forum resulted in the development of Integrated Program of Strengthening Social Partnership between Government Agencies and NGOs, which is aimed at making their work more effective. It is also planned to develop proposals for the draft programs on the activity of public commissions for social partnership at Jokargy Kenes of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, Councils of People’s Representatives in regions and Tashkent city.
The winners of the grant competition of the public fund under the Oliy Majlis were awarded certificates for 1.5 billion soums. The best journalist and editor were awarded for covering the activities of NGOs in social, financial and moral support for the elderly and people with disabilities.
The forum agenda also included a charity fair ‘Mercy, Compassion and Protection’, which focused on the support of children with disabilities, and a photo presentation ‘The NGO World’. The participants were enthusiastic about samples of articles produced by entrepreneurs: costumes, handicrafts and jewelery, as well as photographs depicting social work of NGOs.
Representatives of a dozen of NGOs demonstrated projects on women employment, child health, support of people with disabilities, environmental protection. They concluded agreements with the employers on the practical implementation of the projects.
“We have presented a project on the organization of vocational training for women with disabilities,” shared the Director of Inter Bilim NGO of Khorezm region Rashida Masharipova. “Our recent activities in this field have helped 150 people with disablilties to find their place in the society. The forum is very helpful in every respect. We have reached an agreement with entrepreneurs on the implementation of the next project. Besides, our proposals on the development of resource centers of the region’s NGOs were awarded grants.