The following report was distributed on 20 January 2008 among the participants present in the second round of elections of the representatives of the community-based organizations in the Central Supervisory Board. Parts of this report later appeared in issue 29 of Zendegi (life) periodical, mouthpiece of the Iranian Hemophilic Association in spring 2009. The full text of the report appears here:
An Analytic Report on the Performance of the Community-based organizations’ Representative under the First Supervisory Board (28 January 2005 to 21 January 2008)
Following the elections carried out at the Iranian Interior Ministry on 2 November 2004, the first round of the Central Supervisory Board over Community-based Organizations practically started in January 2005, and officially held its first meeting. The challenges ahead this neophyte institution caused the reformist government to develop a statute for the establishment and functions of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), through short-term measures. These measures were followed by several reviews, amendments, changes and adjustments in order to achieve this objective. The Board was founded to fulfill one of the most major concerns of the Government and founders of the NGOs alike; i.e. determining a systematic executive mechanism and observing a special law.
It can be concluded today that the approach of the Reformist Government as well as the 6th Majlis [Parliament] was passive. Some who claimed to be reformists played their self-invented tricks; however, they had the least, if not none, understanding of NGOs, be it according to some imported views or their invented notions. These all paved the ground for the 9th Administration [Ahmadinejad’s first cabinet] to misinterpret any notions related to the field of NGOs, and subsequently, the NGOs have been making continuous efforts, similar to the past years, to prove that they are not affiliated to the US and the Zionists. The NGOs have also been confronted with unnumbered executive problems; they have been subject to a blocked and security-oriented environment under the pretext of supervision and control; and have spent most of their capacities to carry out legal follow-ups, and make the officials, who have no perception of the NGOs except as religious cults or charities, understand the most basic principles about them. In any case, in the three-year-term of the Central Board of Supervision over the Community-based Organizations, different predilections were imposed upon the social management of the country and the society in Iran. The analysis of each of these predilections can serve as the topic for a priceless and essential research. However, the present work seeks to have a short glance at each of these continuous, though separate courses in line with the Progress Report.
1- The establishment of the Supervisory Board was the result of perseverant and serious efforts made by Mrs. Boroojerdi and Mr. Ne’mati in their roles as the Deputy for Social Affairs and Councils, and Director General of this deputyship, respectively. The enthusiasm and zest of that era can serve as a valuable historical example that deserves to be used as a pattern in many other areas. Despite a number of shortcomings and deficiencies in the general aspect of the work, a correct understanding of this subject and the close entwining of topics such as civil participation, NGOs, good governance, etc. with the perceptions and approaches of the officials was encouraging. As a result of this golden age, thousands of pages of reports, researches, surveys, polls, books, and numerous articles, films and audio-visual programmes were produced—a token of dynamism and influence of this newly introduced arena, all of which stemmed from a powerful and objective management. Since 30 July 2005 to late November the same year, a hectic but productive period started for the Board: 350 NGOs were registered or had received the permit to work. The reasons responsible for this are many, a few of which are mentioned here: Firstly, due to a number of executive problems and lack of transparency regarding some Terms of References (TORs), making decisions about certain cases had been interrupted or delayed sometimes up to three years. Introducing the new statute helped clarify many of these vague cases. The internal solutions ratified by the Board members served as the framework for action and paved the way for reviewing many of these cases that were already filed and forgotten; secondly, due to the open-minded and comprehensive approaches during this era, there were fewer cases which the Board members rejected. Interested people could present their applications in any field and invest hope in achieving a positive result—an approach that sadly was not practiced later on; thirdly, the significance of information dissemination in a word-of-mouth manner by the people regarding the emergence of a new and attractive ground for public participation in various fields. This, in a way, served as a practice for democracy and accountability for organizational management. It also paved the way for many of the boycotted and humiliated talents and caused different groups of the people with different interests to gush into the Bureau for NGOs. As a result of the public acceptance, accompanied by the formation of the Board, many permits were issued. More than 100 NGOs whose permits had been issued by other sources were compared with the Statute, as a result of which they received permissions signed by the Interior Minister. During the one-year that the author was able to assist Mrs. Boroojerdi, many appeals including pleas by Government departments, cases on inter-organizational disagreements and NGOs were reviewed. To name a few major examples, the case of the Association for Defending the Rights of the Prisoners (ADRP), the Assembly of the Islamic Revolution’s Governor-Generals, the NA Association and the internal disagreements within the Communications Network of Women’s Organizations of the Islamic Republic of Iran can be mentioned here.
1- In 2005, the reform government was replaced by the Ahmadinejad Administration and changes at managerial levels in the Interior Ministry occurred. Under Dr. Majidi and while Mr. Amini was the Director General, a sudden recession took over—a sign of fundamental change and an absolutely different approach compared to the past. Subsequently, all the permissions issued towards the end of the term for the 8th Administration had to be reviewed. Most of these permissions were invalidated because they violated the Statute. The approaches of the previous managers were examined with suspicion and security-oriented concerns. This caused the newly-arrived officials to take measures in compiling a new statute that best served their own expectations and thoughts. The new statute had no legal authentication; practically, the time for implementing the appendices of the Third Development Plan was over and the Fourth Development Plan did not present any new anticipation in this regard. However, one important issue that should be noted well is the close cooperation of a number of officials who, up to a week prior to the approval of the new Statute claimed to be die-hard reformists. Nevertheless, they were in cahoots with those who handled the compilation of the new Statute with a dogmatist and security-oriented view. Such a pity that the Reforms Movement held many of such fellows in it… Anyway, the persistence of the representative of the NGOs and the encouraging, beneficial and perseverant cooperation of Mr. Mohammadi Jirandeh, distinguished representative of the High Council of the Provinces in the Board, was soon able to break the frost of the recession and meetings were held promptly with a new approach and policy and in accordance with the prevailing environment. During this period that took a little more than a year, 90 previously granted permits which had not been handed over to the owners of the community-based organizations were invalidated. Efforts to change this order were in vain. Some of the files were considered incomplete just because they lacked one single photo, and were annulled.
1- Amidst this era; i.e. in early 2006, the Director General of this department was replaced by Dr. Khatibian who took charge of the Social Affairs, so that the fully factional, polarized, satiated with illusion of conspiracy and suspicious views of the previous manager would not widen the gap between the government and the NGOs further. It was then that the Persian Language Academy coined a phrase to replace the acronym NGO, suggesting a new acronym in Persian, SAMAN, the meaning of which can be translated as community-based organizations. However, SAMAN was not a correct synonym for non-governmental organizations; it was rather synonymous to civil society organizations and related to a more general notion. The most significant activity of this period was challenging verbal disputes with decision-making officials in this field, whose new views were in contradiction with the notion of SAMANs, and who confined the voluntary activities within the establishment of the charity organizations and nothing else. Months were spent to make them understand that people are free in congregating around whatever cause, and that the existence of various SAMANs is no threat for the traditional establishments of the country. However, unilateral views continued to be imposed through other channels upon the Board. After a few months, we were swamped under applications for charity organizations, and found out that applications for organizations with other causes are neglected under different pretexts at the Registry level.
The omission of the SAMANs from the suggested Statute of the Board was also another challenging issue that brought about discord. Through continuous complaints and perseverant follow-ups, as well as reminding the serious impacts of the propaganda and threats of such decision, and with the sincere cooperation of Dr. Khatibian the issue was taken to the Cabinet again. The final Statute was reviewed and revised. Although the revision did allow the presence of a SAMAN representative, it did not secure any right to vote for this representative. A new series of efforts after six months restored the right to vote for the SAMAN representative. Nonetheless, the request for an increase in the number of the SAMAN representatives in the Board from one to three was still there.
Up until the late November 2006, only 65 permits were issued. Measures were anticipated by the Social Affairs Department to lobby with the individuals and institutions that previously issued permits, to accept to centralize all the required work at the Interior Ministry. THis resulted in the opening of many files, in different areas. These cases were frequently mentioned in the Board meetings. However, the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF- the Police) refused to obey the Statute and this caused even more problems.
1- Under Dr. Ayyobi on top of the Social Deputyship of the Interior Ministry, a new chapter of activities and approaches opened. It transformed the “Bureau for NGOs” to the “Department for Community-based Organizations”. This invested increasing hope in implementing many of the undiscovered capacities of the Statutes and the Board. During the time that led to Mr. Fouladi’s assignment as the first Director General of the Department for Community-based Organizations; i.e. until the end of Dr. Khatibian’s assignment, about 170 additional permits were issued. The appearance of the permits changed, too, due to the personal preferrance of the Minister; the permits were no longer handed over to the applicants through a special ceremony. The authority of the Board practically reduced under Dr. Khatibian and some of the reference work it used to carry out vanished. However, seeing into cases such as the Assembly of the Governor-Generals and the ADRP were still present on the agenda.
1- The establishment of the Department for Community-based Organizations was a positive step in centralization of the work in the Interior Ministry, and also to further influence the issues in this arena; so much that after a short while and owing to the inclusive follow-ups by Mr. Fouladi the process of receiving an application for the permit was carried out correctly and quickly, while all steps were computerized. The new system helped the people and officials alike and reduced the delays caused by waiting. Mr. Fouladi’s presence in his role as the Secretary of the Board and also on top of the Department since April 2007, which acted as the Secretariat for the Board as well, was an encouragement for the true SAMANs to invest trust in their ties with this department and hope for true legal supports as mentioned in the Statute. However, lack of correct understanding of the TOR for SAMANs, or rather voluntary work could cause damage. The new management has only been seeking an outstanding and smart management practice. To be fair-minded, it has achieved a lot. But it has engaged itself less with the spirit of the community-based organizations and their meaning, the spirit of voluntary work and those involved in this field. Therefore, this has led to the creation of a deficient image of the SAMANs. It is very difficult for this school of thought to accept that a group would dedicate their belongings and life to serve a certain objective without expecting anything in return and only looking forward to some support by officials. Such an understanding should underline that those who come to the Department for the Community-based Organizations are in fact different from others. They are not after solving their own problems through discrimination and favoritism. They are doing what they can in order to serve the people, soothe their sufferings and solve their problems.
1- The first term of the Supervisory Board is approaching its end while problems such as: lack of coordination among the institutions that are allowed to issue permits according to different laws and regulations; continuous disagreement of LEF [the Police] with the Social Affairs sector of the Interior Ministry and its disobedience of the Statute and even the decree issued by the Supreme Court of Administrative Justice; lack of conformity at the Department for Registering the Companies and lack of coordination between this department and the Department of Community-based Organizations; lack of a comprehensive solution regarding charity organizations that unfortunately has led to a number of abuses; the need for a correct definition of different activities and related fields at national, provincial and constituencies levels; lack of a clear mechanism for surveying the progress and financial reports and an executive guarantee for implementing the Statute in this regard; interferences made within the social affairs arena and stigmatization of the SAMANs with political and security labels; unprecedented and broad involvement of public sector managers in this field and spreading the public hierarchical management patterns contradictory to the structure of voluntary organizations; lack of accurate inter-organizational understanding of a culture of job-shifts and an elite-flow within the organizations; the emergence of the Governmental Community-based Organizations or SAMANDs [equal to the English G-NGOs]; and last but not the least, making propaganda and inexpert statements against a group of most sincere people and SAMANs of this country only make up a few of the complications these organizations have been dealing with during all these years. The organizations, which have been established by a number of caring and assiduous people in order to identify, address and remove the problems, have not surrendered, despite the fact that they are being labeled to be affiliated to the US or the Zionist regime. Some people, who have shallow understandings, attempted to claim that these organizations are after colorful velvet revolutions. Nonetheless, these organizations are not petrified by such claims and stigmas, and since they are voluntarily engaged, they only want to be considered as the strategic partner for the Government in carrying out the activities in which they are specifically experts. They seek to remove a burden from the shoulders of the Iranian society. The SAMANs are more concerned about the security of society and are far more valued to be engaged in political tricks. The coming years belong to the Community-based organizations. The future decade is the decade for the management of the people over the people in social arenas, in the lights of which many of the social complications will be solved by the capable hands of the people, without imposing astronomical expenditures upon the Government. The administrations in turn will start to appreciate that community-based organizations are in fact opportunities, not threats.
1- The Supervisory Board has held 185 work meetings since 28 January 2005 to 4 January 2009 according to the invitations issued. As a servant to SAMANs at national level, I have participated in all meetings but one and have made efforts every week all through this period to be present and offer consultation and guidance in the procedure of processing the files as a humble member. Reviewing the cases sometimes took hours and days before the meeting was convened. Studying the files of the valued voluntary workers for whom I served as a representative, called for a thorough understanding of each case in order to defend them. This almost turned me to an Interior Ministry employee. I should further underline that a representative of the community-based organizations should dedicate most of his/her time to them as well as the Department for Community-based organizations. Easy access to the SAMANs Representative for all these organizations when they need certain guidance or when they have confronted a problem is another important characteristic. Their Representative should truly be bound to the values of a community-based organization and have the least working and administrative relation with the Government; spend time and energy for his/her work and be accessible without any prior appointments required. I would hereby like to acknowledge special thanks to one of the most efficient supporters of the community-based organizations during this era, distinguished professor, Mr. Mohammadi Jirandeh, Representative of the High Council of Provinces in the Supervisory Board, who served as a unique representative of the SAMANs with his meticulous and expert views and an open mind. While major challenges came up between the Deputy Minister [of Interior] in his capacity as the Government’s Representative and me, in my role as SAMAN’s representative, his influential and resolute votes in favor of the community-based organizations was able to break the inflexible views of the Government and open a way in the dead-end. His cooperation deserves to be appreciated by all organizations. The writer has little to say about the magnitude of his efforts…
1- The 185 sessions of the Board led to the issuance of about 500 permits, and 100 comparative permits. These fall within the categories of charity, cultural, social, arts, environmental, addiction [control], the handicapped, special diseases, legal, scientific, etc. During the first term, the Supervisory Board did not entail any special sensitivity or direction regarding any topics and welcomed all the people in various fields of activities with open arms. The author has always believed that we are in the beginning of a difficult path and should go through many difficulties in a historical era. We should be patient and avoid unmeasured and dividing expressions and prepare ourselves for confronting immense and greater problems that emerge following a more profound influence of community-based organizations in society in a more vigorous way. We should learn that presence in the social arena calls for deserving and sometimes even further costs that can sometimes be beyond our capacities. We should learn that accountability and responsibility are truly divine blessings and anyone can demonstrate his/her capacities and talents should s/he be granted the chance to serve. We should also learn that the chance to serve is not a slogan, but when started voluntarily, it will continue sincerely and achieve results in a caring way, and that serving others is not a pretext to gain fame; as if so, it is nothing but a lie. We should also teach others and share the culture for voluntary work with our children since they are young, so that they will not have to hear—as we did— accusations questioning the reasons, motives and benefits of the voluntary work, and labeling the hard work as a waste of time and money.
In the past three years, I have tried to make all possible efforts in line with following up the issues related to the community-based organizations through unnumbered meetings with the officials and special meetings with the people in charge of the related organizations and institutions. I have had constant follow-ups with different sources; have defended the rights and provided guidance, consultation and direct follow-up regarding the establishment of 40 organizations.
The only issue remaining here would be following up the issue of a comprehensive law, which nowadays is as important as creating the culture. It can be concluded that the two issues of short-term and long-term significance are creating public awareness and culture, and the importance of developing a new special law for the community-based organizations. In the grace of God, I have been able to help with the both ambitions, however small my services have been. A good example of my assistance was organizing the Introductory Seminar on the Cooperation of the Government and Community-based Organizations, held on 20 August 2007 in which 250 SAMANs participated. The Seminar made good achievements. However, many of the attractive statements and wishes made in that seminar just remained there; no meetings have been held ever since to boost the cooperation between the government and the community-based organizations. It seems that such wishes, as expressed in the remarks of the Social Deputy of the Interior Ministry during the Seminar may not realize. Nevertheless, this does urge all to follow-up the ratification of a new law, so that all the Community-based organizations would be freed from the confinement that the Interior Ministry has created for them. It is hoped that whoever would take over as the representative for a huge number of the community-based organizations at national, provincial and constituencies levels should truly consider him/herself their servant; make any possible efforts in following-up their related issues and do his/her best in order to develop capacities among the organizations that can truly be considered NGOs, as well as among the officials. It is also hoped that the community-based organizations could discover their immensely important capacities, and with a comprehensive effort, come to believe that the SAMANs’ profound impact on the growth and particularly the social development of the country nowadays is among the obvious facts of management and politics alike. They should listen to constructive criticism and improve their management approaches towards establishing powerful and influential organizations; prove their capacities to the officials; set the misunderstandings and disagreements aside and unite in order to solve their problems, and have an outstanding and impressing role in the gatherings, so that these get-togethers would achieve results from which all benefit. I also hope that the all inclusive presence of the SAMANs in all social arenas would prevent from the unilateral approaches of those managers who seek to control everything and happen to be an obstacle ahead of materialization of the essence of Article 44 of the Constitutional Law. However, this group of managers should also accept the reality and trust the community-based organizations.
I express gratitude to God that during this period, and since my youth granted the opportunity of serving to this humble servant of His, and provided priceless experience ahead of this insignificant subject. I would also like to apologize to all those whom I may have made upset in a way during my assignment and wish that they would pardon me for any shortcomings, Inshallah.
SAMANs Representative in the Supervisory Board
10 January 2009