Azerbaijan: closing down civil society
Since March 2005 when Transparency Azerbaijan opened its first free legal advice office in Baku, known as an Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre or ALAC, more than 40,000 people have asked for help about how to combat the corruption they face every day. Most of these people come from vulnerable groups who feel their voices are not heard.
Transparency Azerbaijan opened four more centers between 2005 and 2007, but funding was always a struggle. It had to close two centers after the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe scaled back in the country at the end of 2013. The remaining three centers were funded by a new USAID project that started in September 2012.
But on 8 August 2017, Transparency Azerbaijan announced that it had to close its two regional ALACs and had scaled back its operations in the capital city of Baku. This is because the government would not approve an extension of the funding as it comes from outside the country. Since 2012 the government has introduced restrictive laws that do not allow civil society organisations to accept money from international donors.
This should not be allowed to happen. Transparency Azerbaijan is a non-partisan organisation, like all Transparency International chapters, with no political affiliations. Its role is to combat corruption and it provides a way for people to speak up. Its work also shows how civil society can help the stated aims of the government to combat corruption.
Azerbaijan scores just 30 on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, indicating a serious problem with corruption.
The blanket ban on foreign grants has brought the country’s civil society to a halt and has dealt a devastating blow to civic initiatives across the board.
But without a vibrant civil society, it is hard for citizens to hold governments to account. Often organizations cannot raise funds locally. But people need advocates to speak on their behalf, particularly on the issue of corruption.
Transparency Azerbaijan is making a difference.
- It uses information from the ALACS to make policy recommendations to address the gaps in the legislation and public administration.
- It hosts debates between civil society and government representatives to discuss policy areas, including housing, employment and how to use cashless payments by government to limit corruption.
- It acts as an independent voice of the people. It's a voice repeatedly heard by the government and translated into new legal acts and institutional improvements in such areas as the development of e-government and the introduction of principles of transparency and accountability by public service centers.
The closing down of space for civil society to operate around the world hurts the most vulnerable in society. The government of Azerbaijan should make changes to legislation to facilitate approval of the grants to civil society, including Transparency Azerbaijan. This would help the citizens of the country and the government in the fight against corruption.
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