EU funds to empower CSOs towards Good Governance

Towards Empowering Bhutanese CSOs for Good Governance and Inclusive Development, the European Union (EU) funded project was launched on 14th February in Thimphu. The project aims to bolster Bhutanese civil society organizations (CSOs) in collaboration with the Parliament, Civil Society Organizations (CSO), and media houses.

The European Union has allocated 875,000 euros for the project, which commenced in January 2024 and will conclude by June 2027.

During the event, Speaker Lungten Dorji acknowledged the crucial role that civil society organizations (CSOs) play in advocating for citizens’ rights, promoting transparency and accountability, and contributing to the socio-economic development of the country. Despite being at the forefront of addressing the issues faced by marginalized and disadvantaged individuals, CSOs encounter challenges such as limited funding, restricted access to information, lack of understanding among CSOs, and an unsupportive environment.

The Speaker stressed the significance of empowering CSOs to engage in policy discussions and facilitate citizen participation in decision-making processes. Additionally, he underscored the importance of collaborative efforts among CSOs, government institutions, and parliament to advance good governance and inclusive development in Bhutan. He expressed that empowering CSOs aligns with His Majesty the King’s vision of a robust civil society as a foundational element of democracy.

The Speaker committed support from the Parliament and promote the CSOs.

In his speech, Sangay Dorji, the Chairperson of the National Council, highlighted that the project signifies the collaborative endeavors of CSOs and their partners in enhancing democracy and addressing the challenges that CSOs encounter, thereby paving the way for a resilient society. He emphasized that the project, focused on empowering good governance, showcases the role of CSOs in promoting inclusive governance and bridging marginalized groups with the government.

Nonetheless, the Chairperson pointed that CSOs are confronted by the sustainability and other challenges.

Yet, the Chairperson said, “CSOs are a beacon of hope, paving way towards robust inclusive CSO, collaborating with the Parliament, government and the media.

The Chairperson said it will catalyze in social mobilization and achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

The National Director of the Save the Children Bhutan said that the CSOs have contributed in various sectors. The estimated monetized value that Civil Society Organizations have contributed to Bhutan’s economic development is Nu 65 billion in the last 11 years.

The National Director said there is increasing recognition from the Parliament. The existence of CSOs is to meet the provision of Article 9 of the Constitution and in alignment with His Majesty’s vision to have strong CSOs.

However, the National Director said CSOs faces multiple challenges like not fulfilling the required capacities and garnering the collective effort to raise the voice of people.

Nonetheless, the National Director said that the CSOs will strive to support the marginalized people.

The Executive Director of the Respect Educate Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW), Dr Meenakshi said that the project is a unique opportunity to collaborate and bring out the tangible impact.

The Project will be co-led by the RENEW, Bhutan Transparency Initiative (BTI) and Save the Children. The Project will be implemented in collaboration with the Parliament, CSOs /CBOs and Media Houses in the country.

Meanwhile, a former senior journalist said that Good Governance is neither thinkable nor feasible without an adequate societal development, and depends on the existence and quality of Civil Society. “It is a product of the arrangement for relations between state and society as a dynamic and permanent process of reciprocal influence meant as cooperation. Here is the essential new quality of governance. This connection is undisputable,” he said. However, he said that despite the growing importance, civil society organizations in parts of the world, including Bhutan remain only partially understood. “If the government and the people do not know the roles that CSOs can play and have played, how can a CSO further any cause, in this case good governance and inclusive development?”

According to him, the strength of CSOs also matter. “The media is one of the strongest CSOs in the world. But if media houses are like the state that the Bhutanese media today is in, can you think about contributing to any cause apart from ensuring your survival,” he questioned.

He further explained that the key features of successful civil societies which emanate from various definitions include  separation from the state and the market; formed by people who have common needs, interests and values like tolerance, inclusion, cooperation and equality; and development through a fundamentally endogenous and autonomous process which cannot easily be controlled from outside. “These are theoretical, but if read carefully, these are the essences of CSOs, which make them the guiding principles for CSOs to function. But as mentioned earlier, if CSOs are not strong and the reason is finance, there will be compromises made. The media will begin self censorship, especially if there are critical stories about their advertisers. So, where is the relation with Good Governance or promoting it?”

Nonetheless, he mentioned that the EU fund and organizations involved in the project are a “fresh breath of air.” “We have RENEW, Bhutan Transparency Initiative (BTI) and Save the Children leading the project. All three understand issues associated with CSOs of Bhutan, which would be very crucial in achieving the objectives of the project,” he said, adding the project has come at the right time. “We have witnessed the transformative changes in the system and while Good Governance is important all the time, it has become very critical now, considering Bhutan’s current position and the ambitious goals we have set.”

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu