NGOs: Lack of comprehensive rules and regulations governing civil society organizations (CSO) is hampering the growth of CSOs. The Act that governs CSOs is not conducive for the growth.

This challenge was the highlight of a two-day CSO retreat in Paro where chief executive officers, general secretaries, programme officers from 47 registered CSOs gathered.

They also identified lack of trainings in integrity, leadership and management skills, and proposal writing for fund mobilization and financial sustainability as some of the challenges CSOs face today.

They proposed to have integrity training in CSOs to enhance transparency, develop a guiding document to mobilize recourse from donors, sharing knowledge and experiences between old and new CSOs to foster and promote CSOs fraternity.

Executive director of Bhutan Transparency Initiative (BTI), Pema Lhamo, said there are many loopholes and ambiguities in the CSO Act the National Assembly passed in 2007. For instance, Pema Lhamo, who presented all provisions of the Act at the retreat, said the definition of authority is vague and its functions are skewed towards regulatory thereby not aligning to the objectives of the Act. “If we don’t push for amendment of the Act, it might open corridor for corruption within the CSOs,” she cautioned.

Executive director of Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD), Siok Sian Pek Dorji, said preamble and definition of the act itself needs to be revisited.

Some participants said members in the authority board should have at least three eminent members representing the CSOs. As per the Act, there are three members including a lawyer from government. “This means the board can take decision even if two CSOs representatives oppose it,” the executive director of Association of Bhutan Tour Operators (ABTO), Sonam Dorji said.

The Act states that all decisions by the authority shall be determined by a simple majority of the members present and voting. “Which is why the act needs to be amended and increase members representing CSOs from two to three,” Sonam Dorji said.

They also noted that the functions as defined in the act do not respond to the objectives of the Act. It is limited to only registration and deregistration.

General secretary of Tarayana Foundation, Chimi Paden Wangdi, said that CSOs in Bhutan are relatively a young sector and government needs to create space for their growth. She said they should recommend the Parliament to revisit the act thoroughly and come up with a comprehensive one.

The retreat was jointly organized by the BCMD and Bhutan Media Foundation (BMF) on March 2 and 3.

The official CSO system was established only after the enactment of the Civil Society Organizations Act in 2007 formalizing the CSO sector in the country.

The Act was passed to facilitate the establishment and growth of public benefit organizations and mutual benefit organizations in order to strengthen civil society, promote social welfare and improve the conditions and quality of life for the people of Bhutan.

It is also to ensure a system of public accountability by providing a framework for responsible and effective self-regulation of CSOs and facilitate a constructive partnership between the government and CSOs in order to advance the public interest.

Rinzin Wangchuk, Paro