Civil society organisations face setbacks

31 December 2022

Bangladesh remains static in the global index of measuring civil society organisations (CSOs) sustainability and freedom as per the 2021 Civil Society Organisations Sustainability Index. Referring to the index, an English newspaper reported that CSOs who work for human rights, democracy, and good governance have been experiencing setbacks in the form of legal procedures and renewal of registration. Bangladesh lags in four criteria out of seven. Its overall score is 4 in 2021 meaning that "sustainability is in the stage of flourishment".
There are more than 58,000 organisations registered under the Department of Social Services, more than 15,000 under the Department of Women Affairs, 9,000 trade unions and 2,261 Bangladeshi entities under the NGO Affairs Bureau. Bangladesh saw a gradual decline in terms of the sustainability of CSOs since the inclusion of Bangladesh in the annual estimate in 2014.  The CSOs in Bangladesh have to face four setbacks dubbed as bureaucratic harassment in the legal process, complicated registration process, renewal issues, and delayed approval for foreign support. Gradual increase in restrictions on civic space also posed challenges for CSO operations. In fact, Bangladesh has seen a decline in civic space to speak out due to the draconian digital security act, which prevents CSOs from functioning effectively.  
The fund crunch also hampers the CSOs in implementing their benevolent civil activities, which we see in 2021 as the NGO Affairs Bureau delayed approvals of foreign grants imposing new conditions in the process. It limits CSOs' ability to retain full-time, qualified staff. The CSO sector in Bangladesh has long depended heavily on foreign and local donors, including the government, multilateral institutions like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and UN, and bilateral donors like USAID, FCDO, UKAid, and Sida. Such reliability also bars the CSOs to work without any subservience and obliges them to serve the donor's interest.   
If there is uncertainty as to the survival of civil society, democracy as it defines 'of the people, by the people, for the people ' fails to retain its real meaning. Development has turned into a farce simply intended not for the benefit of the general masses, but a corruption privilege for the few without the strong watch of civil society. Therefore, whatsoever a government claims to be democratic, without allowing space for the people to speak as a civil voice, it turns out to be an autocracy soon. On the other hand, CSOs must prove themselves to be accountable, transparent, and devoted to the cause of the people.

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