After many years of continuous demands for the establishment of Saudi non-governmental organizations, Saudi citizens are finally celebrating the government decision to allow civil society organizations (CSO). The CSO Law was issued in December 2015 and entered into force on March 17, 2016.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development also announced it will provide training for youths to prepare them for work in non-governmental organizations, which will be monitored to guarantee their transparency and accountability and provided with the necessary support to achieve the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.
Social Development Ministry Undersecretary Abdullah Al-Sadhan said, “Under the new rules, charity societies and foundations will have their own council and a fund to support organizations will be set up to help develop their capacities and guarantee their sustainability.” The new rules also allow companies, institutions and banks to establish charity societies.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development has also announced plans to provide 60,000 jobs for local youths in non-governmental organizations across the Kingdom.
Many remain optimistic and are eager to promote civil society and see it as a positive step toward sustainable development and meaningful progress. They are encouraged by the flexible laws and regulations governing non-governmental organizations with licenses granted within 60 days, the minimum number of association founders reduced to ten, and a wider scope of permissible activities that associations and foundations can undertake.
The implementation of Saudi Vision 2030 includes plans to empower civil society and allow citizens to participate in nation building. According to Dr. Hammad Ali Al-Hammadi, Assistant Undersecretary for Social Development, “The governance standards for private entities are drafted and developed as per the Private Societies and Institutions System, by law and in accordance with the best international practices.”
The country needs a more responsible civil society that can communicate public concerns to the government, monitor policy and program implementation and encourage participation of stakeholders at the community levelSamar Fatany
He explained that “the ministry will have those working in social development centers trained on the concepts and tools of governance and will carry out inspections to make sure private societies are committed to implementing the standards of governance.”
This is a step in the right direction as not many have the experience and will need professional guidance and support to ensure that they are capable of providing better and meaningful social services. Hopefully, the initiative will improve the sector and increase opportunities to identify shortcomings and lead to the sustainable success of private societies.
National Transformation Program
The move is part of the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 to promote the contribution of civil society and build a knowledge-based society.
Today, civil society has an opportunity to address problems and offer innovative solutions to the challenges facing our nation. Government cannot do the job alone. Civil society organizations can play a key role in supporting government initiatives toward reforms as well as voicing public concerns.
The country needs a more responsible civil society that can communicate public concerns to the government, monitor policy and program implementation and encourage participation of stakeholders at the community level. The development of civil society and non-governmental organizations can support government initiatives to implement the National Transformation Plan.
Globally, civil society groups have changed in their role from a monitor and sometimes corrector of state actions to an active participant in governance. But these groups face a variety of problems as they step up their efforts to be full participants in governance. For example, political analysts note: “CSOs are traditionally concerned with power relations between the state and its citizens. More than ever, they should be responding to informal sources of power that may impact poverty reduction equally.”
“It is critical to recognize and encourage the role of civil society organizations in the promotion of good governance in emerging nations.” This is according to a policy brief developed jointly by the United Nations University and the East-West Center through a recent conference held in Honolulu.
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the global war on terrorism, many civil society organizations were restrained. Political analysts assert that civil society organizations, if allowed to flourish and participate, can play a crucial role in helping governments reach the goal of equitable, sustainable and open societies in which all citizens share equally in both benefits and burdens.
Today, Saudi citizens are eager to play an effective role through legal and formal channels to participate in the decision making process. The continued absence of civic activism in the past was detrimental to progress and has resulted in a lack of a national identity among many educated professionals.
However, with the participation of citizens addressing their needs, we can promote a sense of belonging and national pride the expectations of activists, professionals and community leaders are high. They welcome the opportunity to confront current challenges that are slowing progress in the Kingdom. Their contributions can be more effective and have a greater impact on the welfare and progress of our society.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on May 2, 2017.
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”