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The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 11, Issue 2, February 2009

A publication of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor

Special Section: Reformist Leaders and Civil Society

Increase Engagement with the New Government
Ingrid Srinath

A Confidence Gap Needs To Be Bridged
Francis N. Pangilinan

There Is a Danger That the Government Starts to Think It Owns the Sector
Liz Atkins

Getting Too Close to New Leadership Can Be Blinding
Boris Strečanský

Be Prepared to Get Your Hands Dirty
David Robinson

Bind Reformist Leaders to Campaign Commitments
Arthur Larok

A Reformist Leader Is No Guarantee
Dragan Golubovic

Article

The Legal Framework for Not-for-Profit Organizations in Central and Eastern Europe
Douglas Rutzen, David Moore, and Michael Durham

The Legal and Regulatory Framework for Civic Organizations in Namibia
Benedict C. Iheme

International Grantmaking
Foundation Center in Cooperation with Council on Foundations

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Download this issue (PDF) | Editorial Board

A Confidence Gap Needs To Be Bridged

Francis N. Pangilinan1

What innovations have worked, and what lessons have been learned, for civil society to enhance its engagement with the government when a reformist leader takes office?

For civil society to enhance its engagement with government, especially with the entry of a reformist leader, there must first be a clear appreciation of the crucial nature of strong private sector-public sector partnerships. There must be a healthy respect for the distinct roles each plays in governance. There should be a clear understanding and acceptance on both sides that conceptually, government and private sector partnerships can in fact improve governance and ensure greater impact in a given community, and that such partnerships have in fact led to concrete gains and results.

There must be a meeting of the minds as to the necessity of synergy, the need and the importance of the sharing of resources as well as expertise and a clear understanding of the goals and the end results of such a partnership between the reformist leader and civil society.

In addition, there must be a clear recognition at the outset of the limits that the reformist leader, operating within the parameters of government, faces when engaging with civil society and the private sector. There must be a leveling off of expectations between the reformist leader and civil society. All too often unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

Upon my election in 2001 and my stint as Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement the same year, the challenge of reforming the housing sector immediately came to the fore. With a housing backlog of some four million homes nationwide, the challenges were formidable. We knew that government could not hope to address the huge backlog without private sector participation. At that point, the performance of government agencies tasked with overseeing the nation's housing programs left much to be desired. Reforms were urgently needed. Consistent with my election campaign commitment of strengthening citizens’ involvement in helping shape the community and enhancing civil society’s involvement in governance, we immediately engaged the private sector.

We sat down with a Catholic Church-based national organization called GAWAD KALINGA (GK) committed to providing decent housing for the poorest and most marginalized sectors of society. These were poor families living in shantytowns located in urban centers throughout the country. We immediately pushed for greater government funding to social housing in partnership with GK—funding that would be disbursed to GK directly and not through the traditional government disbursement process. This innovation turned out to be crucial in getting support.

In 2001, GK had 20 housing sites outside of Metro Manila, the nation’s capital. By the end of my first six-year term, the committee was able to allocate the largest amount of government resources to socialized housing in a decade with GK as a partner. More than 200 local governments throughout the country likewise partnered with GK by providing land for socialized housing. Organized nationwide at the grassroots level, GK provided the human resources to build the homes and to organize the communities. Because of the strong commitment of its leaders, GK was able to attract support not only from government but from the private sector as well; private donations were tax deductible. All told, by the end of six years, GK sites rose from 20 to 1,200. Today, there are over 1,300 GK communities nationwide.

The GK experience is by far the largest, most significant development in the socialized housing sector in the country in last ten years. Without housing champions in government and in the private sector working closely, the GK experience would not have been possible.

Another major ally in civil society’s partnerships with a reformist leader is the media. The media play a very crucial role in helping frame the issues and presenting them to the public. For any reform effort to succeed, it must be able to build a critical mass of supporters, and the critical mass can best be reached through the media.

In the run-up to the election of a reformist leader, there is often an increase in civic mobilization. What are some innovations and lessons learned about sustaining civic participation over time?

The key components of sustaining civic participation are ensuring that participation bears fruit and that stakeholders’ interests are addressed, whether in the short, medium, or long term. There is nothing more persuasive than success in the partnership.

Issue-based advocacy groups, such as those committed to shelter, quality education, and access to justice, have successfully maintained healthy and effective partnerships with reformist leaders by identifying objectives and roles before the election and continuing to pursue them with clarity after the election.

The independence of these organizations and the maturity with which they are able to partner with government and still achieve the desired results are necessary elements of strong, long-term, and sustainable civic participation. The thin line that separates the governors from the governed, the citizens from their elected leaders, must always remain clear and sharp. It is when the line becomes blurred that a sustainable partnership is undermined. Sustaining civic participation rests on the assurances that these advocacy-based organizations do not lose their identities and that they remain focused on their missions even after the election is over and the business of governance begins. It is one thing to get elected; it is another thing altogether to govern and to ensure that the advocacy groups remain committed to their missions while partnering with reformist leaders in the pursuit of their objectives.

Sustaining support and mobilization over time depends as well to a great extent on the campaign promises made and the fulfillment of these promises. A reformist leader must walk the talk if he or she is to remain effective as a mobilizer. The fuel of civil society groups is their zeal to achieve their noble goals. Nothing can be more discouraging to civil society groups than seeing the transformation of a leader from being noble to being ignoble. Integrity, consistency, and clarity are all necessary if strong partnerships between civil society and a reformist leader are to be sustained.

What are some of the challenges that civil society organizations face when a reformist leader is elected?

The challenge is for both government and civil society organizations to accept and firmly remain committed to the concept of strong government-private sector partnerships with the clear understanding that while pursuing their respective missions, there must be mutual respect for the independence, the limitations, and the opportunities that come with such engagements. To lose the independence and the initiative of either one would weaken the partnership.

It has also been my experience that by and large, the public has grown cynical of quite a number of government initiatives and promises made by government officials. This cynicism affects the ability of the reformist leader to immediately engage civil society and vice versa. A confidence gap needs to be bridged. There is a great degree of distrust, perhaps because of years of broken promises from public leaders. The initial hesitance to engage can be attributed to this experience. There must be efforts to reach out, to persuade, to convince, to inspire, and of course to get concrete results. On the part of civil society, the challenges are to learn to distinguish leaders who walk the talk and to immediately engage them.

There is, consequently, the challenge to rouse stakeholders to action and get them to directly help shape the reform effort.

What are some lessons learned relating to the management of high (and sometimes unrealistic) expectations that can accompany the election of a reformist government, and how can civil society help hold governments accountable for pre-election promises?

Expectations can be managed most effectively with strong and sustained engagement in pursuit of a clear set of goals and based on mutual respect coupled with a great degree of candor. When the reformist leader is seen up close and on a regular basis, trust and confidence are built and strengthened. It is also in these engagements that the reformist leader is able to get firsthand feedback on the issues and concerns of civil society and stakeholders. Pressing the flesh and getting down and dirty are necessary to build confidence.

As Chairperson of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2001, I took up the cudgels for the judiciary and the reforms that were urgently needed at that time. Upon my assumption of the chairmanship of the committee, the situation facing the justice system was alarming. A third of the nation’s courts had no judges. The compensation package was so low that lawyers opted to stay in the private sector because earnings there were five to ten to even 20 times higher. The situation was worse in the first-level courts or the municipal trial courts where the vacancy rate nationwide was 44 percent. Nearly half of the first-level courts nationwide had no judges. In the National Prosecution Service, the vacancy rate was also even more alarming. Nearly half of the available government positions of public prosecutors were empty. The net effect of the glaring lack of judges and prosecutors was a serious delay in the dispensation of justice and the disposal of and resolution of cases. The whole system of justice was under severe constraints and needless to say the faith and the trust of the public in the system of justice had been adversely affected. The main culprit was the unattractive compensation package for government lawyers. The private sector just paid so much more.

The immediate solution was to introduce legislation that would raise the pay of government lawyers/judges and bring it to the levels comparable to the private sector. After eighteen months of legislative work with an unprecedented mobilization of the legal community, two pieces of legislation doubled the pay of judges and justices nationwide and increased the pay of public prosecutors. Involved directly in the efforts to pass the measures were the stakeholders themselves through their respective organizations, including the Philippine Judges Association, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Philippine Bar Association, Association of Law Schools of the Philippines, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, and Crusade Against Violence.

The immediate effect of the increase in salaries and compensation was the rise in applications for judgeship positions nationwide. By 2007, or four years after the laws were passed, the vacancy rate in the courts nationwide had dropped to sixteen (from a high of 30) percent and the increase in applications to vacant courts jumped as much as 1,000 to 1,500 percent in certain areas. More lawyers were applying for these positions. This meant that there was a larger and deeper bench from which to choose the best and the brightest.

This effort was not without serious challenges. For one, the pay of judges and prosecutors involved some 4,000 positions. Excluded from the measure were more than 17,000 court employees who also wanted increases in their pay. These positions in the judiciary had not experienced huge vacancies because their pay was comparable to that in the private sector. The association of court personnel threatened to strike. The matter was addressed by a combination of persuasion and accommodation, but the bottom line was that a painful decision to exclude them had to be made, otherwise there would be no law. In such an instance, the strong partnership between civil society and the reformist leader made it possible. In addition to the court personnel, the Department of Budget and Management opposed raising the compensation package on two grounds: the country was experiencing huge budget deficits at the time and funds were not available, and raising the pay of one set of public officials and employees would cause demoralization in the bureaucracy where other agencies too were clamoring for better pay. In sum, the package had legal, administrative, and financial stumbling blocks. All the ingredients of failure were present.

In the constant dialogues and meetings with the various stakeholders spanning eighteen months, the common goal of improving the compensation package was decided upon, reiterated, and constantly reviewed and updated so that all the stumbling blocks would be hurdled. Without the strong day-to-day engagement with civil society and the various stakeholders, it is difficult to see how such a controversial measure would have reached first base.

The current financial crisis has created challenges for governments, governance, and civil society actors. What advice would you like to convey to civil society actors in light of the financial crisis?

The financial crisis was brought about to a large extent by the weakness of the regulatory framework resulting from the all-too-familiar paradigm that the markets left to themselves will be self-correcting. The deregulated financial sector brought the mess that the world economy now faces. The strategic role civil society can play is to create the pressure for greater regulation and transparency in the financial sector. It is to provide a counterbalance, with outside-the-box thinking that can help chart a new course and lead to an irreversible process of reforms in financial sector. It is to move toward greater openness and greater access to information necessary for stakeholders to make wise decisions.

Civil society actors, relative to government, have greater dynamism and greater flexibility. This ability to be flexible will help them push for greater transparency and accountability. In my own experience, government resources and personnel are used more effectively when in partnership with private sector and civil society organizations with known track records. This can be attributed in part to the greater transparency in these transactions that result from the presence of these civil society actors.

Clearly, left to address the matter themselves, the financial sector and the government agencies tasked to regulate them have failed and failed miserably. It is time to shake things up and infuse new ideas and new approaches that can only come from outside. The bailout plans are stopgap and short term. The long-term reforms that must take place will require an entire community of stakeholders participating zealously and relentlessly in the process.

Note

1 Francis N. Pangilinan is a Senator of the Republic of the Philippines and a former Senate Majority Leader of the Philippine Senate. A former youth leader and student activist who advocates for justice, independence, and integrity in governance, he was elected for a second six-year term in May 2007. Senator Pangilinan is the first incumbent Senator in the history of the Philippines to run as an independent candidate and win.

 

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ISSN: 1556-5157