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Partnership Between Government and NGOs Urged

China's top political advisers have urged the establishment of a partnership between government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in a bid to speed up the transformation of government functions.  

They said NGOs should be given a greater scope to help the government rectify defects of a market economy and serve as a stabilizing force to ensure social justice.


"It's neither reasonable nor practical to expect the government to address all problems in society," said Wang Ming, a member of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).


"For such a country as China still in a transition from a planned economy to a market one, the help from NGOs will prove especially important."


Wang, also director of the NGO Research Centre of Tsinghua University, told China Daily that the Chinese government has encouragingly realized the increasingly important role of NGOs in providing major social services.


As a key sign of the positive change, Premier Wen Jiabao vowed on March 5 to turn over responsibility for more activities the government should not be engaged in to enterprises, NGOs and intermediary agencies.


It was the first time the central government clearly underscored the significance of NGOs in its annual work report to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature.


The premier also stressed that the government must pay more attention to social administration and public service work while at the same time working to better regulate the economy and oversee the market.


"All these moves indicate that the government is taking active steps to loosen its monopolizing role in providing social services while trying to create greater operating room for Chinese NGOs," said Yang Haikun, another CPPCC National Committee member.


He added that the dedication of NGOs to resolving social problems will contribute a lot to realizing the government's goal of building a country based on "small government and big society."


Yang, an expert on administrative law, noted that NGOs can play an important part in environmental protection, helping the needy through poverty alleviation and public welfare.


"The solution to all these problems, resulting from the defects of a free-market economy is beyond the capability of any government," he told China Daily in an exclusive interview.


"But NGOs, most of them non-profit and public-interest groups, can gather private and public-good resources to fund non-profitable public service that the market fails to provide."


Steve K.W. Chan, a CPPCC National Committee member from Hong Kong, said that the participation of NGOs in public-welfare work has won greater acceptance by both the Chinese government and the public.


For instance, cash-starved rural education has been lagging far behind urban education in China due to lack of State funding, according to Chan, also chairman of Coca-Cola China Limited.


But some Chinese NGOs, including the China Youth Development Foundation, have solicited large donations from domestic and overseas individuals and enterprises to help ease the capital shortages in rural education.


Chan's company itself has so far donated over 35 million yuan (US$4.2 million) to set up 56 Project Hope primary schools nationwide and fund thousands of rural students.


Despite the increasing role of NGOs in China, these CPPCC National Committee members pointed to an embarrassing fact that Chinese NGOs are now operating with limited resources and influence.


At present, there are only 134,000 social organizations registered as NGOs and such organizations have to register as non-enterprise units or public institutions due to the rigid registration system.


That's why China's NGOs in broad terms should also include 110,000 private non-enterprise units, 1 million grassroots organizations and 320,000 public institutions, according to Wang Ming of Tsinghua University.


The current regulations on NGOs require such organizations to have a governmental department or semi-official body as its sponsor for registration but lack definition in the practical management issues of NGOs.


The restrictions, which make it hard for most of Chinese NGOs to seek funding through various channels, have led to financial hardships for them, Wang said.


Jia Xijin, a public administration expert at Tsinghua University, said the government should first relax its control over the registration of NGOs to facilitate their establishment.


Meanwhile, legislation should keep up with the needs of NGOs development to ensure a favorable environment for their operation such as raising funds, the researcher said.


He also urged the government to lend more support to NGOs by introducing more preferential policies, such as tax reduction or exemption, to encourage more donations and grants to the organizations.


(China Daily March 14, 2004)

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