Flirting with NGO-s: Same organisations receive public money every year
From winning the elections in 2006 to the latest data from 2014 the current ruling party awarded NGOs and civil society organizations nearly 1 million 800 thousand Euros directly from the budget. This sum relates to only one item called –
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Author: Aleksandar Dimitrievski
The Government of RM, in accordance with legislation in the late 90’s, regularly supports associations and foundations. The allocation of a certain amount of money by government decision is made by the current as it was by the previous governments. Various support funds have been opened throughout the years. So today money is given to foundations and associations through separate ministries, municipalities and at least two programs directly through the government. In this research, we focus only on the largest such program called “Transfer to NGOs for financing program activities of citizens’ associations and foundations”. It has the longest history, most money is shared through it, but it itself is sufficiently complex for a journalistic text.
The allocation of these funds is done according to predetermined rules. In a certain part of the year NGOs propose projects after the Government calls them upon previously adopted program. Expert commission chooses who gets support and the funds must not be used for purposes other than the activity for which they are given. An organization can be selected only once and obtain support for one project. Each organization is obliged to submit a report to the Government – how it spent the money when the project is completed.
Suspicion that this money may not be spent for the purpose was the second reason for such research. Namely, while setting the last group of monuments in Skopje, it came to light that they were paid by donors, and not the municipalities or the Government as it used to be, which was seemingly unrelated with our theme. One of the generous organizations was called “Association for the Spiritual Unification of Setinci, Popadinci and Krushoradi of Florina in Macedonia“. The media revealed that they, as a civic association, for their actions received financial support from the national treasury. Thus, using the archive of official papers, we learned who, how much and what for received support from the Government. All this is important for at least two reasons. Because citizens’ money is spent and because the example of the Association of Setinci raised the question – what are these funds actually spent for.
Only few have received the money intended for everyone
The rank list – who received money from the Government, includes 244 non-governmental organizations and civil society associations. But the analysis how much each has received showed that there are huge differences. The organization that has received the most money over the years, more than 32,000 Euros, while the smallest amount received over the years is just over 560 Euros. So we made a list ranking the most supported organizations by the Government and we found that more than 16% of the allocated money, or about 300,000 over the years, ended with the 10 most supported organizations. At the top is the association that was one of the reasons for the research. From 2007 until last year Setinci and Popadinci received the most or more than 32,000 Euros. Next on the list are three associations that in the same period received an almost identical amount of money. “Ezerka” from Struga received 30,894 Euros, “Synergy” from Stip 30,829 Euros and the “Association for the Protection and Education of Children of the City of Skopje” 30,813. Followed by “Narodna Tehnika” from Kicevo, “Semper” Bitola, “SEGA” from Prilep, “Izvor” from Kicevo, “Association of citizens politically persecuted, imprisoned and sentenced for the ideas of the separate identity of the Macedonian nation and statehood” from Skopje and “Radika” from Skopje. The amounts they received range from 30,000 to just under 25,000 Euros, details that can be seen from the table attached. Winners by money
Besides the allocated money, we made a comparison in another parameter – how many times was each organization supported in the past eight years. The picture here is similar.
“Association of Setinci and Popadinci”, “Ezerka”, “Synergy” and “Narodna Tehnika” were selected even 7 times out of 8 competitions. The program activities of the “Association for the Protection and Education of Children of the City of Skopje”, “Izvor”, “Radika”, “SEGA” and “Semper” were supported six times. The remaining can be viewed in the detailed list.
Winners by number of selections
Little reporting, lots of suspicion – what has been done with the money?
From the list of organizations that have received most money through that program, we put together a short profile of the 5 most supported organizations. Whose are they, what they do, how they spent the money. We sent questions to all of them on their official emails – how many projects for and how much state money they received, what they realized and where we can see those projects. None of them answered.
- Association for the Spiritual Unification of Setinci, Popadinci and Krushoradi of Florina in Macedonia – Skopje
This association, which only once of the past eight years was not supported by the program we investigated, is based in a residential building in Skopje, on Blvd Partizanski Odredi. Tashko Jovanov is president. Their work was exhaustively researched by journalist Biljana Stavrova, where one could read many details about the organization (link to the research). From then until now at least two pieces of information have been published related to this Association. The opposition SDSM presented documents by which the government has given the Association premises of 49 m2 in the center of Skopje and then a gratis used car Audi A4, worth 5,000 Euros. Although this organization is the most supported association in Macedonia, almost nothing is publicly known about their activities or who its founder is. President Tashko Jovanov appeared in public several times, but on behalf of other associations that also got support from the government. Government’s decisions best describe the status this association enjoys. For example, in 2010, the Association of Setinci, Popadinci and Krushoradi was supported as the only organization in the area of program activities for organization of integration into the EU and NATO. The project, supported by the Government for this purpose, was named “Cultural identity of Macedonians originating from Aegean Macedonia as a factor for strengthening the trust and coexistence between the Macedonian and Greek people and their countries of Macedonia and Greece”. The association has neither a website nor on the Internet information can be found about their projects and activities, besides donating monuments.
- “Ezerka” – Struga
More information in the public domain can be found about this association. According to it, “Ezerka” is focused on the fight against human trafficking, but also advocates for the promotion of women’s rights. There is a website, but it does not work. News about their projects can be found in the local Ohrid and Struga media. But in the national media the image of “Ezerka” gets another dimension. For example, in 2012 the association was part of the NGO organizations that in Struga protested against the violence of Aleksandar Verusevski that the citizens of Struga did not respond to, informed the newspaper “Vecer” in a text entitled “Struga violence with amen from Crvenkovski”. The Association had stiff stance during the debate on Family Law that “we are against making same-sex marriages and adoption of children by homosexual couples, because we do not want children to be victims and abusers”. But that there are sympathies between the Government and this Association best speaks their communication with the executive power on the occasion of the Call to the civil society to contribute to the preparation of the Government program for 2015. The letter begins with – “Ezerka” continuously monitors and supports the Government”.
- “Synergy” – Stip
This organization is first on the list to have its own website. According to the information there, it is a charity organization. Among their projects there is civil activism support, education of women, informing the farmers. But one of their activities stands out. Besides human activities the association also monitors elections. This organization was the head of the Coalition of NGOs Organizations Get Out and Vote which although had not been publicly known, in 2014 accredited most observers for the elections. 5000, not more or less. For comparison, citizens’ association “Most” that has been monitoring elections for years, that same year had a total of 580 observers or almost ten times less. The weekly “Focus” also revealed that this often supported organization with public money is close to the government. Among other things that the President of the Association, Vilma Jordanova, is a member of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE and former adviser to the party in the municipal council in Stip.
- Association for the Protection and Education of Children – Skopje
Although fourth on the list, this organization is practically the first whose project most people in the country have heard about. Every year the government supports their activity – organization of Children’s Festival “Golden Nightingale”. This organization has its own web site, where still information on all donations cannot be found. Yet their result can be seen every year in the days when the historic festival of children’s song is organized.
- “Narodna Tehnika” – Kicevo
Although fifth on the list, this association may be the first of most supported organizations if as criteria, instead of its name, we take the name and surname of the authorized person. According to the Central Registry, president of “Narodna Tehnika” from Kicevo is Sasa Dukoski. He is a former journalist in the public service and in 2010 he was elected Assistant Professor at the Law Faculty in Kicevo as part of the Bitola State University. But Dukoski appears as the only authorized person in the organization “Izvor” from Kicevo. Both organizations with the same authorized person over the years received a total of over 58,000 Euros. They often received the money as separate entities in the same competitions. At least on the internet no news and links can be found to some of the projects for which these organizations received money. Although some of them are with typical titles such as “Rural resources in Kicevo presented by wiesel reflection” or “Comparative advantages for the development of rural micro-region Brzdani river in Kicevo”, no written documents can be found on the Internet. NATO and the EU on the margins, fight against corruption forgotten But apart from the money, we investigated what projects of the NGO and civil society sector, according to the context, have been supported by the current government. Summarized by topics, most of the projects are related to strategies, activities and events of local importance – from festivals to tourist guides. Then there is a number of projects related to the fight against human trafficking, domestic violence and entrepreneurship development. But among other things there are dozens of projects that is not quite clear what they are or do not seem to be a program activity of citizens or foundations. For example: “Water as a leader to the beautiful habits”, “Construction of a local road Gorno Kolicani village – Batinci village”, “Sources in Prilep in a new dimension”, “Kindergarten opening” etc. Another striking point is that comparatively, the number of projects related to EU and NATO integration is very small. Although, according to the relevant program each year such projects should be supported, among those who received money under this item are activities of the Association for the Spiritual Unification of Setinci, Popadinci and Krushoradi of Florina in Macedonia, and “Comparative analysis of the process of lustration” of the Association of citizens politically persecuted, imprisoned, sentenced for the ideas of the separate identity of the Macedonian nation and statehood”.
Of all the set program goals of the Government the most obvious is that the support of projects whose purpose is the fight against corruption is missing. The last such support activity dates back to 2010 for the project “To prevent corruption”, of the women’s organization Radika from Skopje. In other words, in the past five years, from a total of 1.1 million Euros, only 5,000 Euros were support for associations and foundations for the fight against corruption.
They work for Macedonian, but live from foreign taxpayers
We asked some of the organizations that are “lower” on the list of supported organizations for their opinion on these programs. Among them are several names that are well known to the public: Young Lawyers Association, Transparency Zero Corruption, NGO Infocenter, Helsinki Committee … These organizations received some funds until 2008-009, and then they disappeared from the list. We asked Uranija Pirovska of the Helsinki Committee, which only once in 2009 received about 4000 Euros, if they applied and if hoping for funds from government programs. She says they have ceased to seek funds from Macedonian taxpayers and are currently funded by application of calls from foreign donors.
– “Since then we have neither applied nor we have received, as the tendency to fund NGOs that are close to the government is apparent and by the way, in many occasions we checked and we found that they only exist on paper and appear in public only in cases when it is necessary to deny the findings and conclusions with critical content towards the policies of the government by the NGOs which are constantly present in public” – says Uranija Pirovska, director of the “Helsinki Committee” from Skopje.
The law is good, realization lags behind
Legal provisions concerning NGOs in Macedonia have been subject to scholarly work of three professors at the Law Faculty in Skopje. Dr Borce Davitkovski, Dr Ana Pavlovska Daneva and Dr Dragan Gocevski in 2011 published a paper in an international collection entitled “Prospects of the NGO sector in the provision of public services in the Republic of Macedonia”. The text concludes that the legal framework in the Republic of Macedonia encourages the work of NGOs and offers the potential to even carry out public services on behalf of the state. We asked one of the authors of the paper whether the legal platform and the money allocated by the central government are rationally and correctly used in practice.
– “From the available acts and reports that the Government announces, assets are allocated to finance NGO sector. However, a number of NGOs are consistently permeating in the top 10. It can indicate two scenarios. Either that a certain small number of NGOs are very equipped and successful in achieving their projects so they are always more successful in applying for funds from the government or, and this is perhaps speculative, there is some preferential treatment to these organizations. As a personal opinion, I think the associations of citizens who express interest to conduct activities for the local community should be given more support. The manner of allocating the funds for financing to be decentralized. However, local self-government can have greater insight into the needs of local people and indeed active members of associations are themselves residents of smaller places. A number of organizations from smaller places have limited access to applying for funds when the method of distribution is centralized. Larger and already established organizations will always have priority – even in most objective circumstances” – said Dr. Dragan Gocevski, Assistant Professor of Administrative Law and Public Administration at the Law Faculty within the University Ss Cyril and Methodius in Skopje.
For all dilemmas that this research opened about the figures published in the Official Gazette, we asked the Government of course. Where can all implemented projects be seen, that 1.8 million Euros taxpayers’ money has been spent for? Why do some receive each year and others not? What are the criteria for giving vehicles and flats to foundations and associations? And here we came up maybe to the most devastating fact in this research. There was no reply.
(The story was is supported within the NED project “Raising Awareness about Corruption through Investigative Reporting”)