Foreign donors should direct funds to resolve global problems
Interview with Mr. Fuad Alasgarov, head of the Department for Work with Law-Enforcement Bodies at the Presidential Administration.
Head of the Department for Work with Law-Enforcement Bodies at the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mr. Fuad Alasgarov gave an interview to “Azerbaycan” newspaper.
- Mr. Alasgarov, as we know, NGOs has a special role in the development of civil society. What do you think, is the level of the legal framework regulating NGOs’ work satisfactory?
- The work of the NGOs is mainly regulated with the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Public Associations and Foundations) adopted in 13 June, 2000. The law has been amended several times and improved since 2000. A number of other normative legal acts regulating the activities of NGOs have been adopted as well.
First of all, I must say that the new normative legal acts on NGOs adopted recently and the amendments to the existing legislation serve two purposes - to ensure transparency in this field and simplification of communication between the government agencies and non-governmental organizations. I would like to emphasize the fact that, in general, increasing transparency is at the heart of all of the reforms carried out in the country in recent years.
As you know, on February 5, 2013, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mr. Ilham Aliyev signed a Decree on “Approval of “Regulations on electronic government portal” and measures to expand e-services”. The aim of this document was increasing the application of e-services by the state agencies, reducing the direct contacts between the civil servants and citizens, and prevention of corruption. In this regard, I would note the activity of Service Centers of ASAN, which have transformed the civil servant-citizen relations to a qualitatively new plane and has turned to the brand of Azerbaijan as the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan emphasized repeatedly.
At the same time, we think that the measures implemented to ensure transparency should cover not only public sector, but also civil society institutes; only in this case, we can fully achieve our goals. It is not a mere coincidence that just a few months after the signing of the above-mentioned Decree, the President of Azerbaijan signed a new Decree on “Measures to improve e-service provision to non-governmental organizations” on November 20, 2013. The decree aims to improve the provision of electronic services to non-governmental organizations, thus facilitate their work and relations with the relevant government authorities. The decree envisaged the creation of an electronic information system called "Individual electronic window". Each non-governmental organization registered in this system will have an “individual electronic cabinet”, to which it will have private access and it will be able to establish its relations with the state agency in a simplified manner. The “Individual electronic window” system has already been created and its presentation was held recently in the presence of NGOs.
A number of shortcomings in normative legal acts existing in this field were eliminated due to the amendments to the legislative acts on the activities of NGOs passed on December 17, 2013. For example, up to the very amendments, the activity of the branches or representative offices of the foreign NGOs in our country had not been sufficiently regulated by law. Such shortcomings were eliminated as a result of the amendments to the Law on “Non-Governmental Organizations (Public Associations and Foundations)”. According to the amendments, NGOs must implement measures defined in the legislation for prevention of corruption offenses, legalization of criminally obtained funds or other properties and financing of terrorism. One of the important issues is the registration of the grants received by the NGOs at the Ministry of Justice. If a non-governmental organization does not register the grant that it receives it will not be allowed to carry out bank operations or any other operations with respect to that grant.
Recently the amendments were also made to another legislative act on NGOs activity - to the Law on “Grants”. According to the amendments only the foreign organizations, which registered their branches or representative offices in the Republic of Azerbaijan and obtained a right to act as a donor will be entitled to allocate grants. Thus, the transparency in the NGOs’ granting process will be fully provided; all participants and the purpose of granting will be clear to everybody.
- Mr. Alasgarov, you spoke about NGOs transparency quite thoroughly. How actual is this issue nowadays?
- As a rule, both international and non-governmental organizations are focusing on the transparency and corruption issues in the government agencies. However, the practice shows that the activities of the participants of civil society, especially non-governmental organizations are not fully transparent and one can observe cases of corruption and money laundering there as well. It is not only a case in Azerbaijan, but also in Western countries. For example, 11 of 17 biggest NGOs of France objected the country’s “Médecins du Monde” organization’s offer to conduct a research on corruption in the non-governmental organizations. Without any doubt, that indicated the existence of dark sides in the activity of those organizations. The head of “United Way”, the well-known NGO in the United States, William Aramony had been found guilty in appropriation of more than 1 million US dollars and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. It should be noted that, by his arrest Aramony was one of the well-known NGO leaders of his time. Or, the financial manager of International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights was sentenced to three years of imprisonment by the Austrian court for appropriation of 1.2 million EUR. All these happened in the USA and in Western Europe, where civil society has been formed for ages.
One cannot say that the activity of all non-governmental organizations functioning in Azerbaijan is transparent as well. I would like to cite a few examples. The Public Union “Centre for National and International Studies” for several years received about AZN 358,000 within 9 grant agreements. By law, grant agreements shall be submitted for registration to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan. But the organization I mentioned registered only two grant agreements out of nine it concluded. Another example is the Institute for Peace and Democracy. Within 5 years, its head Leyla Yunus, not being the founder of NGO “Azerbaijani Women For Peace and Democracy in the Caucasus”, nevertheless has been withdrawing from the account of the latter large sums of money in various currencies and using them for personal purposes.
I would like to note with regret that the branches and representative offices of foreign NGOs operating in Azerbaijan often violate the law as well. Thus, in recent years the Azerbaijani NGOs received approximately AZN 2.8 million within 83 grant agreements from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), around half a million AZN within 12 agreements from the US National Democratic Institute (NDI), around AZN 900 thousand within 35 agreements from the Council for International Studies and Exchange (IREX), AZN 300 thousand from the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), and AZN 7.6 million within 625 grant agreements from the Open Society Foundation (Liechtenstein). However, most of these grant agreements were not registered.
Other type of offenses also occurs in this sphere. According to the information we have some donors give NGOs money in cash, that is, the money is not registered as a grant, and, as a result, the relevant taxes are not paid from the proceeds received.
I would like to touch upon one aspect here. The experience in Azerbaijan and some neighboring countries shows that a number of NGOs receiving grants and other donations from their donors are engaged not in the development of civil society, but in attempts to change forcibly the constitutional order in the country. In some cases, foreign donors purposefully finance certain organizations and encourage them to gross violations of the laws and stability in the country. The conclusion is that some foreign organizations are involved not in the development of civil society institutions, but in giving money to certain persons and entities with a view to direct them against the state.
One example of this was funding of the youth movement NIDA by the National Democratic Institute (NDI). As you know, in 2013, members of the movement held illegal rallies in Baku, which were attended by representatives of NDI as well. Investigating authorities have established that the members of NIDA had planned to carry out riots during those actions. Explosives and large amounts of cash were found on some of them. Another organization – the European Endowment for Democracy provided a grant in the amount of about 300 thousand dollars for the Meydan TV, which sole purpose is to denigrate the Azerbaijani government and which calls on the people to illegal actions on air.
We think that such activity is unacceptable. To require the strengthening of democracy and alongside with that to train the institutions of democratic society in unconstitutional methods of struggling is not only political hypocrisy, it also undermines the very essence of the concept of civil society.
- Some NGOs say that after the entrance into force of the amendments to the Law on “Grants” the grants provided by the foreign donors will decrease and as a result they will not be able to operate. What do you think about that? Is it possible to finance the NGOs functioning in Azerbaijan from the domestic sources?
- First of all, I would like to say that today the state of Azerbaijan has sufficient financial resources and substantial amount of funding is allocated from the state budget for the development of civil society and mass media.
As you know, the Council of State Support to NGOs under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan was established in accordance with the Decree signed by Azerbaijani President Mr. Ilham Aliyev on December 13, 2007. The Council allocates grants to NGOs for the implementation of various projects and the amounts of these grants increase every year. Five million AZN was allocated from the President’s Reserve Fund upon the President’s decree dated May 1, 2013 for the implementation of the Council’s various projects. The council allocated over 3.4 million AZN for the local NGOs in 2013 and 2.7 million AZN in the first nine months of 2014. Azerbaijani State Fund for the Support of Mass Media Development allocated around 3.2 million AZN for the media in 2013 alone. The Youth Foundation under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan allocated some 2.9 million AZN for the implementation of various projects in 2013, and about 1.8 million AZN in the first nine months of 2014.
Besides that huge amount of grants are also allocated by the ministries. The Ministry of Youth and Sports allocated over 5.5 million AZN worth of grants for the implementation of 137 projects in 2013 and over 2.1 million AZN in the first nine months of 2014. The Ministry of Health allocated over 1.4 million AZN worth of grants for the implementation of various projects in 2013 and around 1 million AZN in the first nine months of 2014.
In general, at present around 20 organizations financed by the state budget allocate grants to the non-governmental organizations.
So, there is enough potential to finance the NGO projects from the domestic sources and each of over 4,000 NGOs operating today in Azerbaijan, can benefit from this. This gives ground to say that the allegations according to which the operation of NGOs is possible only by receiving grants from foreign donors have nothing to do with reality.
I think it would be more expedient if the foreign donors direct their funds to the countries, where there is no civil society at all, or to the states not able to fund their civil society institutions, as well as to fighting the global threats and challenges, such as conflicts, civil wars and eradication of their consequences, hunger, drought, Ebola and others.
Azerbaijani state herself, as a donor country, also renders financial assistance to other countries and international organizations to fight against global threats. In 2014 alone, Azerbaijan allocated $ 1 million for the UN Global Fund to fight Ebola, about $ 640,000 to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, about $ 535,000 to assist refugees and IDPs in Serbia, around $ 1 million to different countries for humanitarian purposes and addressing natural disaster consequences. In the past three years, the total amount of such aid amounted to $ 16 million. Aside from that, today Azerbaijan allocates funds for realization of cultural and social projects, addressing humanitarian crises even in European countries.
By saying all of this I want to emphasize that Azerbaijan has sufficient financial resources, with which it is possible not only to finance the activities of the civil society institutions in the country, but also to assist other states, what is done today. But this aid is aimed not at interfering in internal affairs of these countries, but at being with them in solving global problems. I believe that the foreign donors should direct their funds to address such global problems. Thus, they will have the opportunity to serve more important goals.