Early this month, Minister of Civil Affairs Li Liguo said independent nonprofit organizations engaged in charity, social welfare or social service would be allowed to register directly with civil affairs departments without clearance from a governmental supervisory body.
Many people see Li's remark as a breakthrough for the development of non-government organizations (NGOs) in China. But Jia Xijin, deputy director of NGO Research Center at Tsinghua University in Beijing, says such an interpretation is overly optimistic, or even misleading.
According to existing regulations, social groups, foundations and nonprofit organizations must receive permission from relevant government departments or public institutions before they can register with civil affairs bureaus. In other words, an NGO needs to be affiliated to a government department before it can register with a civil affairs bureau to operate legally.
The underlying message in the minister's remark is that it's often difficult for NGOs to find an appropriate government department as their supervisor, because government departments tend to shirk their responsibilities and an organization may come under the purview of many sectors. Li was actually suggesting that local civil affairs bureaus directly assume the supervisory role for NGOs working in the three fields.
The minister's stance, in Jia's opinion, encourages the development of the three types of NGOs within the existing legal framework of NGO management, instead of being an attempt to abolish the framework itself.
Jia says the move is not surprising, for it is in line with the trend to alleviate poverty and resolve other social issues. It indicates that the government alone cannot handle all social matters as the Chinese society gets increasingly diversified and, hence, wants impediments in the administrative system to be removed.
The minister's remark suggests local civil affairs bureaus are likely to introduce an innovative and encouraging way for NGOs' registration. Expectedly, more NGOs, especially those operating at the grassroots level, will be able to register and thus function as recognized organizations with more available resources.
Moreover, by being directly in charge of NGOs' registration and playing a supervisory role, local civil affairs officials can gather more experience, she says.
Reviewing the many innovative and incentive measures introduced by the government in recent years to help NGOs' development, she says that in the beginning, the government relinquished its supervisory role in some cases to a few big registered social organizations to enable those seeking registration to deal with people likely to be working in the same field. This often made the registration process more convenient and supervision better.
The government set up a special office, too, to help social organizations find the right supervisory organ in the administrative system. Later, some communities were allowed to play the role of NGO supervisors. After all, it is easier for NGOs to find a community than a government department as supervisor.
The latest move is aimed at giving more space to and making it more convenient for NGOs to develop. Among the three types of NGOs the minister mentioned, the ones engaged in social service are likely to benefit first and get a better environment to operate, Jia says. For example, NGOs helping physically challenged people would find it easier to get registered. In return, they can provide better services, which society is in great need of.
Despite all this, however, Jia says it will take a long time to fully reform the public service system, for the government plays a small role in NGOs' operations.
To keep moving in this direction, the government has to deepen reform, and hopefully people's awareness about their rights will increase with economic and social development, Jia says.
The author is a writer with China Daily.
(China Daily 07/30/2011 page5)