Over the past year, civil society organizations working on democracy, good governance and human rights have been subjected to strict scrutiny by regulatory authorities and various types of bureaucratic harassment in Bangladesh, according to a world index report.
The overall sustainability of organizations has deteriorated slightly, according to the 2020 Sustainability Index of Civil Society Organizations, Bangladesh.
“The legal environment governing CSOs deteriorated slightly in 2020. CSOs continued to face lengthy registration and renewal processes and bureaucratic delays throughout 2020, and restrictions from Covid- 19 have increasingly limited civic space and the ability of CSOs to function, “it reads.
In addition, they have increasingly engaged in self-censorship to avoid clashes with the government, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) report.
“As in previous years, the government continued to use the DSA [Digital Security Act] severely limit freedom of expression, thereby affecting the ability of CSOs to exercise their freedom of expression, criticize the government or engage in advocacy. “
The report was launched at an international event held virtually Thursday evening. Seventy-three countries were covered by the global index in 2020. USAID has produced the annual index since 1997. Bangladesh was first indexed in 2014.
A panel of experts suggests scores for each country based on publicly available information and data. A US-based editorial board finalizes the score and produces the report.
The index measures the strength and overall sustainability of civil society sectors based on seven dimensions: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial sustainability, advocacy, service delivery, infrastructure and public image. On a scale of one to seven, lower numbers indicate more robust levels of CSO sustainability.
Bangladesh scored 4.0 this time. It was 3.5 in 2014 and 2015. The country’s index has continued to decline for five consecutive years.
The CSO sector comprises autonomous formal and informal organizations, usually of a non-profit nature, such as non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, social movements, trade unions, women’s groups and institutes of research and think tanks.
The exact number of CSOs is difficult to determine as they can register with various government departments. However, over 88,000 organizations are registered with three key government authorities – the Department of Social Services (DSS), Women’s Affairs and Labor, and the Office of NGO Affairs (NGOAB).
Over 63,000 organizations are registered under DSS.
“The government does not actively obstruct the activities of NGOs focused on development issues such as the rights to food and housing. However, government oversight continues to be a concern, especially for CSOs working in sensitive areas such as democracy, governance and human rights. . “
He said those working with and on behalf of Rohingya refugees reported increased local administrative oversight and bureaucratic hurdles.
Regarding the paperwork, the report states that the registration process with the NGOAB should be officially completed within 90 working days, but the process often extends well beyond this deadline due to the participation of several ministries and the slowness of bureaucratic processes.
The nationwide lockdown last year closed NGOAB offices, delaying registration approvals by several months, he said.
Typically, CSOs participate in steering committee meetings of various ministries as well as district and sub-district coordination meetings, but these meetings have only been held sporadically in the past year due to Covid restrictions. , did he declare.
“Policy making has become more and more bureaucratic in recent years, and all the more so in 2020 during the national health crisis around Covid-19.
“Because government administrations were busy with Covid-19 relief and management, many public policy decisions were instead directed by bureaucrats outside of parliament. “
This made CSO advocacy increasingly complicated and time consuming, as decisions were more often made in bureaucratic back offices.
However, in a few areas such as socio-economic development, natural disasters and climate change, the government has welcomed the contribution of civil society in planning, policy and strategy formulation, and law formulation.
The financial sustainability of the CSO sector, which is heavily dependent on foreign donors, deteriorated slightly in 2020 as funding shifted to emergency needs, including the response and relief from Covid-19 and the Rohingya crisis. contributed to this decline.
Given the global financial impact of Covid-19, foreign support has declined significantly over the past year. CSOs registered with NGOAB faced a 17% reduction in committed foreign grants, from about $ 1 billion in FY2019 to about $ 900 million in FY2020.
“Many CSOs find it difficult to access foreign funding due to lack of information and lack of staff capacity and expertise. “
The public image of the civil society organization has also deteriorated slightly, mainly due to its lack of responsiveness during the Covid-19 pandemic and difficulties in responding to emergency needs.
“CSOs have struggled to respond to the increased need for support during the Covid crisis. While large NGOs with some experience in emergency response were able to provide critical assistance during the health crisis, most CSOs did not even provide a minimum level of support to communities in need.
“This not only left marginalized communities without adequate support, but also caused a decline in confidence from much of the public.”
In addition, a significant number of people have a negative view of most CSOs, especially those engaged in the promotion of gender equality and democratic rights, he added.
The situation in two other dimensions – service provision and infrastructure support – has also deteriorated as government support and foreign funds previously allocated to traditional CSO activities have been halted or reoriented towards the needs of CSOs. emergency.
However, organizational capacity within the CSO sector remained unchanged in 2020, as most organizations demonstrated considerable adaptability and resilience in instituting new approaches to their work, the report added.