New study warns of "worrying" levels concerning openness of foreign NGOs in Ukraine

A new study published in Brussels and the Ukrainian capital Kyiv has warned that the level of “openness and transparency” of foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Ukraine is “worryingly insufficient.”

The research, by the respected Kyiv-based Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, welcomes the work of civil society in the central European state, saying this it has a positive role to play in helping the reform process.

But during the presentation of the report the authors went on to demand closer scrutiny of the activities of foreign NGOs represented in Ukraine, saying it “would be advisable to thoroughly study the specific aspects of the activities of NGOs, in particular, their effectiveness, relations with ‘parent’ organizations, transparency and observance of legislation, as well as both declared and real goals of work.”

One of the key messages to emerge from the study is that there is "insufficient awareness" in Ukraine about the work of some foreign NGOs.

The report, “Foreign Non-governmental Foundations in Ukraine: Areas and Scope of Activities”, comes just ahead of Ukraine’s presidential elections in March. The increasing role of, and support for, civil society in Ukraine is expected to have an influence on the outcome of the poll.

As such, the trust placed in the NGOs in the country requires that public activists “comply with the relevant moral and ethical standards, while also acting in a transparent manner.”.

The report authors describe how and in what specific areas foreign non-profit organizations are represented in Ukraine.

Foreign non-governmental foundations actively participate in public life in Ukraine and, following the 2014 revolution, their number and role have increased.  Civil society has also strengthened, it says.

Ukraine NGOs often act as partners to foreign counterparts and often receive overseas funding from them to implement “initiatives of great social importance.”

“At the same time, Ukrainian society does not have a systematic understanding of foreign NGOs' activities and aims,” noted the authors of the report.

The study considers the work of organizations from Austria, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and the U.S. which are involved in “extremely diverse and numerous” areas of what is called “development assistance.”

These range from health care and decentralization to human rights and political literacy and have the financial and institutional capacity to “develop and implement in different spheres.”

One example cited is the $70 million spent on U.S-funded projects in Ukraine during 2011-2018.

The specialization of their activities is, according to the study, “extremely diverse” and is exercising influence on regulatory processes impacting on the commercial activities of individual companies.

For example, the German Heinrich Böll Foundation is committed to protecting human rights and the environment while the Westminster Foundation for Democracy supports the development of parliamentarism and the Bloomberg Philanthropies contributes to the tobacco control.

The report cites the work of one NGO, Zhyttia, funded by the Bloomberg Foundation, which advocates regulation of the tobacco industry and "is one of the few NGOs that directly engages in activities that have an impact."

NGOs, the Armed Forces and the Church, are part of a group of social institutions that have a “positive balance of public trust.”

The authors stress that, “Due to the lack of confidence of Ukrainians in state authorities, NGOs partially share a responsibility for carrying out certain socially important changes, while taking advantage of financial support from abroad.”

However, it goes on to say that some NGOs conceal their incomes and expenses.  

This, stress the authors, shows the need for civic activists and NGOs to act in a transparent and open manner that will “minimize the risks of using civil society to serve private interests and hide all kinds of trivial abuses of power.”

The authors caution, “At the same time, the level of openness and transparency of the activities of these structures is insufficient and, taking into account their influence on the life of Ukraine, that gives a disturbing signal.”

The report recommends that “timely and regular disclosure of NGOs’ information on projects and budgets” should become the norm, especially if they are involved in “the development and implementation of certain policies and legislative changes.”

Representatives of NGOs who have such an influence on political decision-making in Ukraine bear “a completely specific responsibility for the standing and public perception of the civic sector.”

Otherwise, warn the authors, “there is a risk of a predominance of private interests over the state in this sector that will have far-reaching unpredictable consequences.”

The study will be disseminated to Ukraine lawmakers, civil servants and Ukrainian NGOs.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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