(English) Who Monitors the Monitors?

“Who monitors the monitors?” is a question often asked when apprehension pervades across the ambit of oversight institutions and sectors. CSOs have attracted their fair share of criticism in line with this question within the last few years as their role in questioning and directing civic opinion on public and market policies has grown exponentially in both prominence and levels of influence. This increase in the set of responsibilities of CSOs must be contexualised within an atmosphere of negative public opinion based on popular incredulity at maladministration by actors in institutions from all spheres of life.

Over the last decade or so, there have been noticeable voices of discontent from a number of global actors in regard to CSO activities. These critics have posed questions on the legitimacy of the mandate that CSOs claim to have when they maintain that they are operating on behalf of broader constituencies and in the best interest of the general public. These criticisms have been given impetus by examples of a few “bad apples” who have garnered negative publicity that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the sector at large [1][1]. Although existence of these “rogue” CSOs as the exception rather than the rule, the sector shares negative characteristics that are hard to ignore. For this, detractors have questioned the mandate of the “unelected few” and have inquired on “who holds them accountable?” These are credible questions that have challenged CSOs to clarify their positions on legitimacy as social and political actors and as a transparent medium for the voice of civil society.

To define the terms, Legitimacy implies that one has justification for their actions. The concept of legitimacy refers to perceptions by key stakeholders that the existence, activities and impacts of CSOs are justifiable and appropriate in terms of central social values and institutions. [2][2] Legitimacy could be derived from membership or knowledge of the issues which civil society advocates for. The critical issue for civil society is the challenge they face around justifications to voice their opinions and to speak on behalf of others. [3][3] Accountability is related to internal governance and embraces the actors, mechanisms and institutions by which civil society organisations are held responsible for their actions. The liability to answer for particular performance expectations to specific stakeholders may focus on quite specific claims-from financial accounting practices, to quality of services delivered, to advocacy campaign tactics utilised. [4][4] CSO values, missions and strategies define goals and activities for which they might be held accountable by these stakeholders. Transparency on the other hand refers more to processes, procedures and values which are prevalent in the method of work and the existence of appropriate systems and how these relate to the functioning of civil society organisations.

Why has accountability become such an important aspect of the discourse around civil society? To answer this question, we can draw on the discussions among civil society stakeholders captured in the CSI country reports. First, many reports mention the crucial importance of accountability for gaining and maintaining public trust, which is seen as a key asset for civil society’s public impact. Second, an additional reason for tackling accountability issues head-on is to pre-empt regulation by the government, which, in many cases, is likely to be less conducive than civil society’s self-regulation. Third, Compared to the government which is accountable to the electorate, and businesses which are mainly accountable to their owners/shareholders, CSO accountability is often more complex where organisations are accountable to multiple stakeholders that include their clients/beneficiaries, members, donors, governments, and the general public. The demands of donors are a key driver of accountability mechanisms and processes. However, these demands should not encourage prioritizing upward accountability toward those stakeholders with greater influence over accountability to other less powerful stakeholders, such as constituencies or target groups. This trend can undermine public trust in CSOs. [5][5]

Although much of the censure of CSOs concerning LTA matters has emerged from outside the sector, a considerable number of CSOs have voiced their opinion on the need to improve or create structures within the sector to enhance LTA in order to gain and maintain public trust. Out of the countries surveyed in the last CSI phase, issues pertaining to legitimacy, transparency and accountability were the most frequently mentioned challenge by a substantial margin. As many as three out of four countries reported that civil society accountability was one of the key challenges for the sector in addition to the few who stressed that this was the key underlying cause of most other challenges. [6][6]

An analysis of the country reports emerging from the CIVICUS Civil Society Index Project Phase 2003-2005 reveals the existence of commonalities across countries in terms of inadequate mechanisms for self regulation within the CSO sector. Civil society organisations observed that they did not have adequate instruments to regulate their own activities in regard to LTA mechanisms. Although most CSOs had some form of self-regulatory mechanism in the shape of internal administrative manuals, accounting procedures and internal codes of conduct; however, the internal procedures and regulations were not always applied or adhered. The curious case of a Bolivian CSO for example is worth noting. It highlights how there were major differences in the manner that the codes of conduct were applied. In this case, the codes of conduct were a result of tacit agreements among members which were neither written nor registered, but verbally legitimised by both leaders and members. Sometimes norms were not clearly defined nor unanimously followed. [7][7]

Another major area of concern within the sector that has threatened the assertion of legitimacy by CSOs is the exclusion of minorities, particularly women, from main-stream civil society activism. [8][8] CIVICUS, through the CSI project identifies these as women, the rural community, ethic/language minority, religious minority and the poor. In almost all incidents, these groups were considerably under-represented in CSO membership, leadership, and mainstream activities. It is from this perspective that CIVICUS believes that any CSO activity that did not position and promote the inclusion of the traditionally marginalised in its programmes as a priority; and with emphasis on gender equity, would have questions on the legitimacy and mandate of its actions raised.

Obviously, the social-political context in which organisations exist in affects their overall approaches to LTA. In this regard, the state must not be seen as the antagonist, but through whom a positive mutual partnership can bear results for the overall development question.

We must acknowledge that in cases of a mutually trusting relationship between government and civil society, civil society might even prefer government regulations over self-regulation due to lower costs and higher success rates. For example, the CSI reports in democratic Northern Ireland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and, surprisingly, in Turkey, explicitly encouraged government to develop and implement more stringent regulatory policies. This is clearly not an option in cases where government is suspicious or hostile toward civil society. In a context where civil society’s rights are not protected, regulatory systems can easily be misused for control. However, where state-civil society relations permit a virtuous cycle of simultaneously strengthening both civil society rights and its responsibilities, civil society’s legitimacy and its role as an important force in public life are likely to be enhanced. [9][9]

On the whole, this does not negate the responsibly of civil society organisations for self control in order to answer to the increasing demands regarding legitimacy and accountability from their stakeholders. And obviously the efforts of DENIVA with its QUAM is a very good example worth mentioning. CSOs must be beyond reproach in the pursuit of their goals and therefore must subscribe to the best practices of good governance. It is from this awareness that there is an urgent need within the CSO sector for reform; for institutions not only to be perceived as having LTA systems in place, but that they genuinely utilise these mechanisms in their pursuit of goals and objectives for credible programmes. In this regard, constant innovation is the key for the sector to register success.

For this reason, there is a global trend for civil society actors to move toward peer review, complaints procedures, and even independent third party assessments of compliance with clear standards. Examples include the Indian Organisational Self-Analysis for NGOs (OSANGO) which enables NGOs to assess their performance in comparison with others; the Australian Association of NGOs which has developed a complaints and redress system. The Philippine Council for NGO Certification has pioneered a partnership with the government to develop a peer review process to certify NGOs for whom the government will permit tax-deductible contributions. Child sponsorship NGOs in the United States have developed a code that enables independent third-party certification of compliance [10][10].

These innovative practices have been described as “second generation” accountability approaches that are providing alternative methods from voluntary self-reported compliance standards (the “first generation” approaches), which have limited compliance and oversight structures. CIVICUS aims to assist CSOs in this process through its Legitimacy, Transparency and Accountability programme under a three year project entitled Improving Legitimacy, Transparency and Accountability in Civil Society. [11][11]

The programme, aims at improving the sector through peer to peer learning, advocacy and information sharing. CIVICUS would like to assist organisations develop communities of best practice through a structure that offers regional coordination. This three year project is a direct response to recommendations from various consultations by CIVICUS that identified an urgent need for reform within the CSO sector and of calls by various stakeholders for CIVICUS to assist CSOs in creating an environment that promotes good governance, building on it’s strategic ability to i) network globally with a wide range of CSOs, ii) serve as an information clearing house, iii) promote multi-stakeholder engagement and iv) explore linkages between local, national and international level processes.

CIVICUS plans to strengthen the ability of CSOs to influence policy, at local and national levels by creating/developing or working with regional networks of CSOs that will share best practices on improving LTA systems and identify innovative solutions for common problems. These “communities of practice” will liaise through an interactive website, e-forum, face to face meetings, learning exchanges and workshops. It is anticipated that the knowledge gained will then be shared within the organisations and with their own members and partners, as well as accessed by non-partner organisations through the website.

In all activities planned, emphasis is on incorporating those that have been traditionally marginalised, particularly women. As studies have shown, the involvement of women in developmental issues has a positive effect on issues such as poverty alleviation, literacy and child mortality; directly affecting the effort of civil society organisations in all manner of activities. Therefore, the project will highlight consideration of gender equity issues and inclusion of traditionally marginalised groups as LTA issues, both in internal practices and external activities, and in particular when setting organisational priorities.

It is envisaged that through the training and networking activities, partner CSOs will develop the capacity and support structures to continue their activities beyond the duration of the project and create viable, self-sustaining LTA systems.

Much as there are many ways and means of approaching the issue of LTA, as a global alliance, CIVICUS acknowledges that one size does not fit all. Therefore, there is need for collaboration, rather than competing by all parties to achieve the same desired goal. Like-minded institutions are encouraged join the programme and offer their assistance and expertise for a successful outcome.

May I conclude by offering a vote of thanks to DENIVA, our host, for a partnership with CIVICUS that has spanned many years and through which the CSI in Uganda was successfully concluded. May there be many more years to come.

] L. David Brown and Jagadananda, (2007) Civil Society legitimacy and Accountability: Issues and Challenges Scoping report
[2][2] L. D. Brown, p.7.
[3][3] LTA definitions (internal document)
[4][4] L.D. Brown, p.9
[5][5] [5][5] Heinrich, Mati and Brown, Ch 20, in V. Finn Heinrich and L. Fioramonti (eds), 2007, CIVICUS Global Survey of the State of Civil Society , Volume 2,
[6][6] Heinrich, Mati and Brown, Ch 20
[7][7] Oscar Bazoberry Chali and Miriam Orellana, Civil Society in Bolivia , from Mobilisation to Impact (Bolivia: Catholic Relief Services and Center for Peasant Research and Development, CIPCA, 2006)
[8][8] Phiri, (2007) Innovative solutions to address common civil society weaknesses, (Internal document).
[9][9] Heinrich, Mati and Brown, Ch 20,
[10][10] Heinrich, Mati and Brown, Ch 20,
[11][11] L. David Brown and Jagadananda, p. 22


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