The NGO Law is Finally Issued It Could Have Been Better [Archives:2001/17/Focus]

April 23 2001

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
The most important element of a democratic society is the role of civil society in the day to day life of people and in the overall development of the society. Moreover, the significance of civil society in checking the exaggerated tendencies of Government to perform oversight to the point of overkill cannot be ignored, given the right legislative framework to be guided by and regulated, and the obvious environment needed for increasing awareness among the general population, which non-governmental organizations should be able to propagate.
On the other hand NGOs can play a significant role in a wide range of sectors, without the obstacles of government bureaucracy and politicized red tape that often stalls government operations.
Civil Society, like most institutional frameworks of modern societies, is relatively embryonic in Yemen, partly because the legislative framework, which regulates the formation of societies, associations and foundations, was not helpful in the development of the appropriate culture mix that would encourage the people to enjoy the right of assembly, which is a basic right of any democratic regime. This is in addition to the poor awareness among the general population on the need to organize themselves in collective functional groups with others that share their goals, desires and objectives and who understanding the value of group interaction. The only legislative framework before the latest Law No. 1 of the Year 2001, concerning Associations and Foundations, was Law No. 11 of 1963, which dealt with a conglomerate of non-government organizations, including labor, sports and other popular associations. It was a classic textbook law that obviously was out of tune with the needs of Yemen and inappropriate for the socio-economic-political mix that Yemen was under then.
Since 1990, Yemen embarked on what seemed then to be a promising adaptation of the political structure of the country, with much room for greater community and popular participation in all aspects of national affairs and greater access to the country’s resources. The road to democracy gave people the impression that they can assemble and began to form the badly needed element of civil society that would release much of the burdens that were formerly placed on the Government and its resources and give people a greater say in the matters that were closer to home. In addition, because many enlightened Yemenis saw the significance of civil society in furthering the democratization process, many new NGO’s were established or applied for, only to find the existing law hindering the potential that could have been realized in the early period of the transfer to democratization.
By the late 1990s, even the Government realized that it was essential to update the legislative framework for the non-governmental organizations and to segregate different kinds of publicly organized institutions, especially those that seek to translate moral or goodwill intentions of people and to advocate for furtherance of democratic practice. The donors were interested in helping along also, and lead by the World Bank sponsored technical assistance to help the Yemenis, in both Government and the existing but weak NGO sector come to a consensus on the appropriate new law to regulate non-governmental organizations by, specifically those that will have a role in enhancing public benefit. This assistance entailed the provision of consultancy service and seminars and countrywide meetings to discuss the proposed drafts that flew up from time to time. Needless to say the assistance was valuable and introduced very important concepts to many whom were involved, but obviously lacked the cultural streamlining on modern civil society. Even the Government produced a draft, although not encompassing all the inputs that were provided by this technical assistance, was definitely a marked improvement over what the Ministry of Legal Affairs was coming out. His Honor Judge Mohammed Shamiry cleverly produced a draft text for an NGO that indeed compromised with the highly liberal draft of the Consultant and the retarded somewhat complex draft that the Government had been coming out with.
But the law that finally came out as Law No. 1 ignored a lot of the positive inputs put in by His Honor Judge Shamiry, which could have created a very vibrant civil society culture had it been allowed to pass through. While Law No. 1 is an improvement over the past drafts given by the Government, it still had many restrictions that work against encouraging the growth of the NGO sector and allowing more people to get involved, by still insisting on the importance of size (minimum membership 41, while the Shamiry draft was closer to home with 7).
It is not sure that the new can help stimulate the growth of the NGO sector and Yemen, especially as there was only lip service given to the role that NGOs can have as advocates of issues that are of concern to the general public and as defenders of freedom and human rights.
On the other hand it is not clear what is in store in the Executive Procedures for the implementation of the Law. But if we can look back at precedence, we can only surmise that the Executive Procedures can be expected to do away with any small tidings that maybe found in the Law as the Government cuts in with various red tape and bureaucratic instruments that almost go against the spirit and vibrancy of the law, as slight as they may seem.
Again, one would have hoped that Judge Shamiry’s draft was to be given a chance to show that there are indeed conscientious people who were involved in the metamorphosis of the NGO Law who had the right cultural knack to add a milestone development in the legislative framework that regulates our society.
We hope that the Executive Procedures are not going draw away all hope that the future may find ways to instill some of the culture which Judge Shamiry and others did show during the process, which obviously seemed to have been overlooked by the diehard bureaucrats who still insist that too much leeway for people is bad.