Reading Summary:

Teamba A. Nolutshungu (2008) “Civil Society? NGOism at Work,” Liberal Institute Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung, Occasional paper 47.

In the paper “Civil Society? NGOism at Work,” Teamba A. Nolutshungu aims to address the way that NGOs, especially those in developing countries, influence on government through statist policies and solution to local problems. The author acknowledges there are different approaches that NGOs may employ to influence government policies, yet they have common goal that is to advocate for social well-being. Through his qualitative analysis, the author proposes that the NGOs should demand for all policies to be subjected to cost/benefit analysis or regulatory impact assessment (RIA).

Though the NGOs may vary in their fields and countries, the author categorizes them into two opposing paradigms: 1) a statist or social-democratic model (those advocate for greater government control and intervention in social service and economic transaction)  and 2) a classical liberal approach (that insists for a minimal role of government and believe that private entities and individual should make their own destiny).

According to the author, in opposite to the classical liberal NGOs who apply “critical engagement” vis a vis government, the statist NGOs tend to rely much on the role of government in reducing social inequality and offering social welfare to all citizens. More importantly, it is the government who will protect the local consumers and entrepreneurs from foreign exploitation and competition. This type of NGOs believe of society as bifurcated: villains on one side, victims on the other. For instance, the rich is perceived as the villains who accumulate wealth on the cost of the poor or victims. The author apparently criticises the modus operandi of statist NGOs which are likely to play up social divisions, exaggerating differences and inequalities. Interestingly, he highlights that these NGOs could succeed their advocacy goals through understanding the nature of politicians and constructively engage with those political decision makers. To support his arguments, he raises examples ranging from the worldwide controversy on the use of biotechnology  in agriculture like genetically modified organisms (GMOs), globalization, to the debate on precautionary principle.

Regardless the provided arguments, in my opinion, his idea seems fit to the prospective theory which only look at the current situational needs or risks rather than reflecting to the future risk. For example, he negatively comment on the precautionary principles: “regulations based on the precautionary principle severely compromise the potential for new technology.” If it is such a case, what if the new technology would harm to society? who will be responsible? who will bear the cost? That is precautionary principle aimed to protect the affected stakeholders and held those who believe that their product is useful accountable for any damages.

As illustrated, the author attempts to analyse the critical problems that statist NGOs may influence on government in a way that it would not help to reduce the real issue, but expanse more control of the government. Thus, he suggest that any proposed policies should be exposed to Regulatory Impact Assessment, through which there will be no politicised chance and proper policy engagement will be implemented.