Non-governmental organizations in Barbados have learnt more about the opportunities and benefits provided by NGO-specific legislation during a national consultation workshop held recently.
The consultation was held under the auspices of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) and the Pinelands Creative Workshop (PCW) and funded by the European Commission. It forms part of a wider regional initiative to improve the legislative environment for NGOs in the Caribbean.
In explaining the rationale for the consultation, CPDC Executive Director Gordon Bispham noted that the legislative framework for the operation of the NGO sector in the Caribbean was “fragmented and sparse”.
“NGO sector organizations are plagued by a compelling need to gain legal recognition and establish themselves within a support network that enables them to develop and undertake the services they are designed to deliver. The consultation is held to address this need and improve the legislative environment for NGOs in CARIFORUM and is being replicated throughout the region.
“Ultimately, meaningful civil society engagement and participation in governance is critical for achieving sustainable development in the region. NGO legislation will help to achieve this,” Bispham said.
At the consultation, the findings of a review and analysis of a report on NGO Legislation in St Kitts and Nevis, Belize, Kenya and Uganda were presented by attorney-at-law Ondene Kirton.
She noted that the existing legal framework for NGOs in Barbados was found under discrete sections of the Companies Act and the Charities Act. She added, however, that there was a need for NGO-specific legislation for NGOs to gain full legal recognition, fulfill their mandate, as well as monitor performance and achieve transparency and accountability.
Kirton encouraged workshop attendees to look critically at existing NGO-specific legislation in the region and determine those elements suited for Barbados. She noted that several conditions were needed including a clear understanding and agreement on the term “NGO”, a comprehensive and in-depth draft NGO policy achieved through consultations with NGOs across the region, and NGOs demonstration of self-sufficiency through the generation of revenue or social entrepreneurship.
Chief Executive Officer of Pinelands Creative Workshop Rodney Grant said that the workshop went well.
“We were able to achieve our objective of sensitizing participants to the importance of NGO Legislation especially regarding legitimacy of the sector as a formal part of governance,” he said.
Going forward, Grant indicated that a broader discussion would be required.
“We recognize we have to broaden the discussion and have dialogue with a wider section of the society. It is important to get the legislation right the first time, to make sure it’s all inclusive. We can only achieve this with wide participation and consultation,” he said.
NGOs including the Barbados Council for the Disabled, Barbados Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados, and the Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Livelihoods (CoESL) participated in the consultation.
Managing Director of CoESL Dr Marcia Brandon described the workshop as very useful.
“It informed me about the variations among the legislations which exist in different countries. The facilitators very clearly broke down the legislation and guided the participants to the pros and cons, and the gaps,” she said.
She noted that if NGO legislation was implemented in Barbados, CoESL as well as other charities and NGOs would benefit.
“We would, by right, be able to receive financial and other support from Government regularly and consistently. CoESL and other NGOs would also be registered under one heading and be able to do social business with the benefits of a non-profit. CoESL would definitely benefit from having an independent body set up specifically to lobby, appeal on behalf of, and facilitate NGOs.”
The next national consultation will be held this month in Dominica.