What is the role of civil society?
(some of the questions submitted to presidential candidates by the NGO Forum)

Stabroek News
March 10, 2001

The NGO Forum held a forum last Saturday at the Ocean View Hotel. All eleven presidential candidates were invited. There attended Mr Manzoor Nadir of the United Force, Mr Ravi Dev of the ROAR Initiative and Mr Joseph Bacchus of the National Democratic Party. Dr Rupert Roopnaraine represented Mr Paul Hardy of GAP/WPA and Mr Sherwin Kendall represented Mr CN Sharma of the Justice for All party. Below are some of the questions that were submitted to the presidential candidates.

1) Governments have great power over Non Governmental Organisations through laws they enact or administer. They can either help or hinder them through the laws and regulations that they use to establish them, to direct their activities, to tax them, to allow them access to funds (public, private and foreign) to involve them or refuse to involve them in government projects and policies. Would your party pursue a policy of active, meaningful involvement of civil society in all aspects of national development?

2) Fundamental to a democratic society is the freedom of association promulgated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enshrined in our constitution. Does your party view that to honour and fulfil its obligations in this regard a government should not only allow, but actively promote, encourage and solicit the involvement of the widest possible cross section of civil society in all forms and shapes?

3) As a further step towards a developing a society that enjoys the fullest possible respect for and guarantees of human rights, would your party support the establishment of an independent, multi-sectoral Human Rights Commission with the means and power to adequately investigate and adjudicate on Human Rights complaints and allegations?

4) Would your party support a constitutional amendment explicitly encouraging the development and participation of civil society, at the community and national levels, in decision -making and policy determination, as is stated in the South African constitution?

5) The evidence across the world suggests that private, voluntary organisations, or CSOs, understand the needs of the people to be served and can often be efficient, cost saving partners for government in the provision of public goods and services. Does your party support and will it encourage funding or the contracting of CSOs to provide public services in all areas of social endeavour, including health, education, public infrastructural works, etc., it they can demonstrate relevant capacity?

6) Does your party subscribe to the view/belief that one of the best predictors of future economic development is the existence of strong civic traditions of cooperative, social networks, trust and a commitment to social good, and that countries that have vigorous private, non-profit organisations, like schools, hospitals, churches and charities, are also likely to develop strong private economic institutions? And that civil society may help to strengthen economic growth and eliminate burgeoning economic impediments to solving important social problems?

7) Would your party support legislation, or legislative amendments that allow the relatively quick, easy and inexpensive establishment or registration of CSOs as legal persons for both domestic as well as branches of foreign organisations?

8) Would you support legislation permitting CSOs to engage in lawful economic business activities, or commercial activities for the purpose of supporting its non-profit activities?

9) It is the position of Guyanese CSOs that whether organised for mutual benefit or for public benefit they should be exempt from income taxation and duties on moneys or other items of value received from donors or governmental agencies; that within reasonably generous limits individuals and business entities should be entitled to an income tax deduction or credit with respect to donations made by public benefit organisations; and that it should be within the scope of an independent civil society commission to grant and administer such exemptions. Would your party support this?