Kazakh Government, Civil Society Discuss New Bill on NGOs

ASTANA – Recognising the need to help build a more efficient and sustainable civil society in Kazakhstan, members of the Kazakh Parliament, representatives of various government ministries,non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international organisations gathered at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dec. 18 to discuss a draft bill which would introduce innovations regarding public funding of NGOs.

The bill, proposed by the Civil Alliance of Kazakhstan, is set to introduce long-discussed public grants and awards for funding of NGOs. It prompted a lively discussion by the Dialogue Platform on Human Dimension, a foreign ministry-initiated Consultative and Advisory Body initiated in 2013.

Deputies of the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament), members of the Commission for Human Rights under the President of Kazakhstan, the National Centre for Human Rights, Constitutional Council, General Prosecutor’s Office, officials from the ministries of justice, health and social development, culture and sports, as well as almost 40 representatives of NGOs, took part in the meeting.

The agenda included three key items and was aimed at strengthening the dialogue between the authorities and civil society organisations on human dimension issues and promoting civil society initiatives and its increased participation in the NGO legislative process, as well as continuing the discussion on fulfillment of recommendations given to Kazakhstan under the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Seeking common ground during the three-hour discussion, attendees holding diametrically-opposing views shared their opinions on a wide range of topics relating to the mechanisms and rules of NGO funding. Many details were hotly debated, including usage of the term “non-governmental organisation,” a phrase that is commonly used but not specified in Kazakh legislation. Legal experts insisted the term should be substituted with “non-commercial organization”as stipulated in the Civil Code, while members of NGOs maintained the new bill should provide the definition of the widely-used expression.

The majority of civil society representatives agreed with public authorities that the time is ripe for the adoption of the law and expressed their desire to further participate in the working group activity before submitting the draft bill to parliament. Unveiled by the government in early 2013, the long-awaited bill is currently in the final stages of public consultation and is expected to be submitted to parliament at the beginning of next year.

The suggested amendments to NGO legislation are aimed at enhancing their role and capacity in Kazakhstan and strengthening the part of the “third sector” in the provision of public services. The amendments propose introducing grant financing, which will provide NGOs with greater resources to professionalise and elevate their work to international standards.

The draft law introduces the well-established international practice of grant financing, which will allow Kazakhstan’s non-governmental sector to progress to a new level of development.

The bill also suggests consolidating and simplifying the procedure of grant distribution by creating a special body or operator, in the form of a noncommercial association. The body aims to bring greater organisation and efficiency to the process of distributing public funds, mediating between state agencies and their suppliers from the NGO community and bringing greater transparency to the NGO-state procurement process as a whole. Moreover, the body will be able to provide independent monitoring and supervision of the implementation of joint NGO-state projects, allowing more effective management and use of funds.

The bill also proposes that foreign donors will also have the opportunity to provide funds to the operator to organise grant financing of Kazakh NGOs, opening a new level of cooperation between international donors and the NGO sector.

Addressing the meeting participants, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP resident representative in Kazakhstan Stephen Tull praised the nation’s efforts in achieving the major purpose of the UPR, which is to improve the human rights situation in the country.

“Kazakhstan has made significant progress in this area, one of the major achievements of which is the introduction of the national preventive mechanism [against torture] and facilitating effective implementation of the UN Universal Periodic Review recommendations,” Tull said. “Over the recent years we have seen noticeable increase in the number of NGOs in the country.”

Tull highlighted the increased dialogue between civil society and government on human rights issues, noting that broad consultations with an equal involvement of the government, civil society and international organisations allow Kazakhstan to take a significant step forward in this direction and encourage robust and participatory dialogue.

Deputy Justice Minister Elvira Azimova presented the major results of Kazakhstan’s second national report prepared within the UPR of Human Rights. She spokeabout work done in the framework of the project aimed at further improvement of human rights mechanisms in the country and effective implementation of UPR recommendations.

Azimova emphasised Kazakhstan’s successful and effective cooperation with the UN agencies, noting that the report was prepared with participation of civil society, the OSCE, European Union and in close interaction with UN agencies, primarily the United Nations Development Programme.

“There are three types of recommendations: the ones that were accepted and fully implemented, recommendations that were rejected and finally recommendations that were accepted and will be addressed in future work,” she noted. “We had to reject some of the recommendations taking into account their relevance [to the processes in the country].”

Chairman of Kazakhstan’s International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule ofLaw Yevgeny Zhovtis summarised the comments and suggestions of civil society to implement the recommendations of the second cycle of the UPR.

During the meeting, a package of UN recommendations aimed at further bringing Kazakhstan’s legislation in line with international standards for the protection of human rights and freedoms were presented.

Following the work of the Consultative Advisory Body last year and this year, more than 150 recommendations were developed, of which about 40 were approved by representatives of state bodies and will be implemented in the future, while 60 recommendations remain under discussion with the remainder considered debatable.

Recommendations made by members of civil society during the meeting were adopted by representatives of public authorities in order to further develop democracy and civil liberties, as well as the rule of law in Kazakhstan.