An interesting public event was held on 25 June, where I was a presenter, on the evaluation of the Governance for Equitable Development (GED) project sponsored by the EU and UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MoCA) (GED had two other components, but they are not relevant here). Highlights of the civil society component evaluation include: high marks for MoCA on many facets of what they have done with GED project funding in the past four years. One negative is that the GED project did not focus enough on training CSOs in advocacy for social and economic development. The powerpoint Prof He Jianyu and I presented is available here. More information on the event is available here.
In connection with some of the recommendations from the GED evaluation in terms of making the sector more accountable, various municipalities and provinces are de-registering organizations that have not filed their annual reports for many years, such as Shandong Province and others (source: http://www.chinanpo.gov.cn). Other municipalities and provinces are making clear the functions that may be transferred to CSOs, including social services and policy research. The first is a good development especially because it focuses on transparency. The second is consistent with the government’s drive to make China into a country that lives up to the slogan ‘small government/big society’.
Guangdong’s new regulation on outsourcing to CSOs is of particular note with respect to the second. Consistent with the move to make it easier to register most types of CSOs in the province that went into effect on 1 July (the subject of previous blogs), the provincial authorities also have issued new regulations on outsourcing which include, among other things, that government may ‘purchase’ from CSOs the following: ‘legal services, topical research, policy (or legislation) research, policy design, policy exposition, monitoring and assessment, impact analysis…’ See here for more information.
Further, two national trainings have been announced on http://www.chinanpo.gov.cn in connection with the new awards for national outsourcing of social services announced in April (discussed in my May blog). It is important to note that the trainings focus on CSO recipients on the one hand, and local government officials on the other. This is a good sign – it means that the government wants to build the capacity of CSOs to work on contracts and to teach officials that they must stop being direct implementers and exercise oversight of the CSOs that are the project implementers.
Despite these helpful signs, it seems that Beijing Municipality is clamping down on meetings and seminars held by CSOs – allowing them to go forward but within limits. One can assume this is in preparation for the October leadership change, to prevent lots of potential dissidents from gathering together.
In addition, Shenzhen has, according to some sources, a ‘major crackdown’ on labour CSOs in progress. As Anita Chan, a noted scholar of labour in China, says: ‘It is unclear why a suppressive campaign is being launched at a time when the Guangdong government seems to be liberalizing controls over labour, launching campaigns on “direct elections” of workplace unions and “collective consultation”. Note that the discourse has changed… Letters [to government] from labour NGOs exude self-confidence that could not have existed a decade ago. The government has been courting them for some time and they have come to believe that they that can rightfully exist.’
Suggesting there has been a ‘crackdown’ may only be one interpretation of the developments. In a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Provincial CPC of Guangdong province at the beginning of the year, the Party Committee and the government of Guangdong affirmed the leadership role of the traditional labour, youth and women’s mass organisations in promoting the participation of social organizations in the province’s Social Administration Reform. As a result, the Federation of Social Service Organizations for Guangdong Workers (FSSOGW) was officially established in Guangzhou city of Guangdong province in May. It may well be that the ‘crackdown’ is implied from actions with regard to the new umbrella status of the traditional trade union, with independent unions being brought under that umbrella.
There is also some very good news from Shenzhen’s Bureau of Civil Affair (BCA), as reported in the Nanfang Daily. Ma Hong, director general of the Special Economic Zone’s BCA, says that statistics for the first half year show a direct registration rate of over 65% for CSOs in Shenzhen. In addition, the local legislative branch is currently discussing a draft ‘industry association’ ordinance. For more see here.
On a minor note – publicity about charity in China has reached a new high in the English-language press with the publication of ‘charity briefs’ on Mondays in China Daily. A recent brief discussed charitable giving by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which amounted to 3.77 billion RMB in 2011 ($598 million); an offer of aid to storm-hit Taiwan from the Red Cross Society of China; and an aid program to help the elderly in poor areas funded by the China Social Assistance Foundation. Another one noted the recent statistics of the Social Welfare Lottery sales, which in 2011 exceeded $20 billion, according to official statistics. Like other attempts to create favourable publicity for China’s charity sector, this effort should impress the public – People’s Daily, China Daily’s parent newspaper, has an entire section on charity or public welfare on its website, which is updated frequently.
Karla Simon (奚文雅) is professor of law and director of faculty development at the Catholic University of America and has worked in China for over 16 years