Guangdong to use NGOs in reform move
Guangdong's provincial government has introduced a mechanism to outsource services including legal consultation and policy research to non-government organisations (NGOs) to reform social management.
A draft regulation released this month advises administrative departments to buy services from NGOs in areas such as education, housing, social welfare and legal assistance, according to the Guangzhou Daily.
The move is part of social reform policies aimed at stepping up the development of NGOs following recent mass protests in the province.
They include the protests in the village of Wukan over illegal land grabs which ended in December, and demonstrations in Guangzhou's satellite city of Zengcheng over harsh police treatment of migrant workers in June last year.
Experts and NGO officials say the new mechanism can potentially empower NGOs, but they also warn that the funding channel could be manipulated to strengthen control over such groups or even foster graft.
Ma Hua of Sun Yat-sen University's Centre on Philanthropy said provincial party chief Wang Yang was an open-minded leader, but the push for empowering NGOs was part of a broader movement. 'This is one of the Guangdong government's innovations. It shows they are willing to listen to the public but we need to wait and see how the implementation works in reality.'
Professor Chan Kin-man, who directs the Centre for Civil Society Studies at Chinese University, said the new regulation was significant because it encouraged public participation and allowed government funds to be channelled back to the grass roots.
But he doubted the new policy would result in any major rapid changes. 'Even in a relatively open province such as Guangdong, I don't think the results of outsourced public opinion polling, for instance, will be disclosed,' he said. 'Many hurdles remain before Guangdong can become a truly civil society.'
Chan also said that NGOs should be given a stable, long-term funding commitment to protect their independence since government departments could seek to manipulate them by threatening to cancel the contracts.
Furthermore, the mechanism could foster graft if funds were steered towards NGOs set up by officials, Chan said, adding that greater press freedom was needed to ensure better monitoring.
'It should also provide stable funding to different NGOs and create fair procedures for the project tendering process.'
Chan said the government currently classified NGOs based on their size, purpose and funding sources and managed them accordingly.
NGOS that receive funding from America or foundations related to promoting democracy or political independence have long been subjected to harsh crackdowns.
Zhang Zhiru, head of the Shenzhen Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service, an NGO, welcomed the new mechanism but cautioned that not all groups would be treated equally.
'The local government doesn't want us to exist as they see us as troublemakers because we petition for labour rights and represent workers in court to fight for what they have lost,' Zhang said.
'Power supply cuts, harassment of clients, and blocking us from renting office space or staff members from renting apartments in the city are just some common tactics we face on a daily basis.'
It was good to see the government start to outsource services, Zhang said, but he feared it would only allow NGOs with 'good reputation' and ties to the Communist Party to gain.
'The provincial government might have good intentions, but the local government is unwilling to open up,' Zhang said. 'NGOs such as ours are predominately funded by United States-based foundations because there is no other way for us to raise money.'