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NGO Accountability

NGO AccountabilityPolitics, Principles and Innovations

Edited by Lisa Jordan and Peter van Tuijl

London Sterling, VA

First published by Earthscan in the UK and USA in 2006 Copyright Lisa Jordan and Peter van Tuijl, 2006 All rights reserved ISBN-10: ISBN-10: ISBN-13: ISBN-13: 1-84407-367-X paperback 1-84407-368-8 hardback 978-1-84407-367-2 paperback 978-1-84407-368-9 hardback

Typeset by MapSet Ltd, Gateshead, UK Printed and bound in the UK by TJ International, Padstow, Cornwall Cover design by Susanne Harris For a full list of publications please contact: Earthscan 812 Camden High Street London, NW1 0JH, UK Tel: +44 (0)20 7387 8558 Fax: +44 (0)20 7387 8998 Email: Web: 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166-2012, USA Earthscan is an imprint of James and James (Science Publishers) Ltd and publishes in association with the International Institute for Environment and Development A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: NGO accountability : politics, principles, and innovations / edited by Lisa Jordan and Peter van Tuijl. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN-13: 978-1-84407-367-2 (pbk.) ISBN-10: 1-84407-367-X (pbk.) ISBN-13: 978-1-84407-368-9 (hardback) ISBN-10: 1-84407-368-8 (hardback) 1. Non-governmental organizations. I. Jordan, Lisa, 1964- II. Tuijl, Peter van. JZ4841.N34 2006 352.106dc22 2006013772 The paper used for this book is FSC-certified and totally chlorine-free. FSC (the Forest Stewardship Council) is an international network to promote responsible management of the worlds forests.


Foreword by Michael Edwards Acknowledgements

vii xi

SECTION I KEY QUESTIONS AND CONCEPTS IN THE CURRENT GLOBAL DEBATE1 Rights and Responsibilities in the Political Landscape of NGO Accountability: Introduction and Overview Lisa Jordan and Peter van Tuijl Accountability of Non-Governmental Organizations in Global Governance Steve Charnovitz Civil Society, Representation and Accountability: Restating Current Debates on the Representativeness and Accountability of Civic Associations Enrique Peruzzotti 3





SECTION II TRADITIONAL APPROACHES: LEGAL ACCOUNTABILITY, CERTIFICATION AND DONOR REGIMES4 The Limits and Risks of Regulation: The Case of the World Bank-supported Draft Handbook on Good Practices for Laws Relating to NGOs Patricia Armstrong Issues in Legislation for NGOs in Uganda Jassy B. Kwesiga and Harriet Namisi NGO Accountability and the Philippine Council for NGO Certification: Evolving Roles and Issues Stephen Golub The Donor Accountability Agenda Jem Bendell and Phyllida Cox 61 81

5 6

93 109


vi NGO Accountability

SECTION III THE BENEFITS OF EMBRACING ACCOUNTABILITY8 9 NGO Governance in China: Achievements and Dilemmas Kang Xiaoguang and Feng Li NGO Governance and Accountability in Indonesia: Challenges in a Newly Democratizing Country Hans Antlv, Rustam Ibrahim and Peter van Tuijl 129


SECTION IV INNOVATIONS: EXPANDING THE ACCOUNTABILITY FRONTIER10 Chameleons and Accountability: Linking Learning with Increasing Accountability in ActionAid International Uganda and the Ugandan Land Alliance Sarah Okwaare and Jennifer Chapman NGO Accountability and the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership: Towards a Transformative Agenda Agns Callamard Addressing Accountability at the Global Level: The Challenges Facing International NGOs Hetty Kovach On Trying to Do Good Well: Practicing Participatory Democracy through International Advocacy Campaigns Juliette Majot 167






211 229 243 245 249

References Acronyms and Abbreviations Contributors Index


When the first systematic writings on NGO (non-governmental organization) accountability became available in the mid-1990s, NGOs still occupied a relative backwater in politics, international affairs and academic research. Ten years on, both NGOs in general and the accountability question in particular have moved to centre stage, for some good reasons and some not so good, and this book represents the new cutting edge of thinking and practice in this increasingly important and contentious arena. Commendably, the editors of this volume have made no attempt to enforce a consensus on the contributors, who disagree with each other on definitions, approaches and priorities, and especially on the degree of external (government or supragovernmental) regulation that may be appropriate for the NGO sector. Context is vital, and there are no universal answers to the dilemmas of NGO accountability, or even universally applicable standards and methodologies. Protecting sufficient safe space for innovation, iteration and experimentation is therefore essential, a theme to which I will return in a moment. The contributors do agree, however, that accountability is as important among NGOs as among any other set of institutions (no one here suggests that NGOs can rest on their laurels because governments or businesses may be even less accountable than they are), and that effective accountability mechanisms always need to balance rights with responsibilities. In other words, the space for independent citizen action must be protected in exchange for compliance with regulations that ensure that NGOs genuinely operate in the public interest. If the public interest is too vague and amorphous a concept to be useful in any operational sense, then at least one can ensure that activities that are claimed to be charitable in nature are openly disclosed and accessible for public questioning. The opportunities to know what an organization does and to ask questions as a result are surely the bedrock of accountability. Although this may sound like a perfectly reasonable equation, it turns out to be much more complex, controversial and politicized than was anticipated ten years ago in the first wave of writing about NGO accountability. This is partly because NGOs have their own equivalents to market sensitive information among businesses and security concerns among governments information, in other words, that may cause significant damage if released into the public arena at the wrong time, or at all (see Majot, Chapter 13). More importantly, NGOs today operate in a different, and often more hostile, political environment than was true for the 1990s, despite continuing high levels of

viii NGO Accountability public trust and government funding. This largely applies to NGOs in their roles as advocates and watchdogs their role in the polity as opposed to politics, formally defined as the world of political parties and the struggle for control of the state. This is especially true in authoritarian regimes, but postSeptember 11th it can be an issue even in relatively open democracies like the United States. Concerns about the politics of NGO accountability turn out to be the most engaging theme of this book. Why is this? In 1995, the first key text on NGO accountability concluded that: the developmental impact of NGOs, their capacity to attract support, and their legitimacy as actors in development, will rest much more clearly on their ability to demonstrate that they can perform effectively and are accountable for their actions. It is none too soon for NGOs to put their house in order. (Edwards and Hulme, 1995) In the intervening years there have been some important innovations in this respect, many of which are documented in this book. In retrospect, however, NGOs did not heed this call with sufficient attention and are now suffering from it in a climate in which, unlike ten years ago, weaknesses in NGO accountability are being used as cover for political attacks against voices that certain interests wish to silence. NGO accountability has become a wedge issue that appears uncontestable across different constituencies on the surface but disguises deep and often undeclared divisions of interest beneath. Examples of such attacks include the NGO Watch project at the American Enterprise Institute, the Rushford Report in Washington DC and the NGO Monitor in Jerusalem, all of which single out liberal or progressive groups for criticism while ignoring the same problems, if that is what they are, among NGOs allied with conservative views. It is no accident that hostility to NGO involvement in global governance forms a key element of neoconservative thinking in the US. Stronger NGO accountability mechanisms wont do away with politically motivated attacks like these, but they would surely help to expose them for what they are. Nevertheless, in such politicized climates, deeper innovations in NGO accountability may be more difficult to achieve because the results gained through increasing openness to public scrutiny may be used to destroy the organization or close off its access to influence and resources, rather than as an incentive to improve its performance. The contributors to this book all struggle with the question of how to balance NGO rights and responsibilities in political climates like these, some of the climates being more openly authoritarian than others. The rights and responsibilities framework does seem to be useful across these different contexts, leaving lots of space for innovation according to the characteristics of different organizations, different types of NGO activity, and different times, cultures and places. Of particular importance is the recognition, made most strongly by Enrique Peruzzotti, that representation is only one of many routes to legitimacy, and for most NGOs not the most relevant one (unless, of course,

Foreword ix they claim it for themselves). It is high time that this particular bugbear was laid to rest. NGOs do not have to be