Local Authorities Specify the Support Measures of NGOs
The subsidies allocated to non-governmental organizations have increased and the arrangements for allocation has been specified, but the support measures can be made even more effective.
The study conducted in cooperation of Tallinn University and the County Development Centres and completed in spring 2021 found that financing of NGOs in municipalities had become more structured and transparent than if had been before the administrative reform. When as late as 2016 around one third of municipalities were lacking procedures/arrangements for financing of NGOs, then in 2020, all municipalities of Estonia had procedures for financing of NGOs in place. The subsidies allocated to NGOs have increased, the procedures for granting them and the types of support have become more detailed and clearer, and the information regarding financing is presented better and more specifically on the home pages of municipalities than four years ago. However, there are still some problems.
Granting of subsidies always arises the question of how to ensure that they are distributed fairly and in a way that is unambiguously understandable to everybody concerned. In order to unify the practices and principles of financing at both national and municipal level, “The Guidelines for Financing NGOs” have been prepared on the initiative of the Ministry of the Interior. The study that was conducted revealed some deficiencies in the awareness of the officials about the Guidelines and in transparency of financing. Information relating to financing – the procedure for granting subsidies to NGOs, principles for forming the assessment committee and its organisation of work, the receivers of subsidies – are often not public. In the study, case studies were conducted in two municipalities. Among other things, the case studies focused on the development of communities, on village elders and associations of village elders. Associations of village elders have proven themselves as a two-way information channel through which the problems of the community reach the municipal authorities and the relevant issues of the municipality reach the regions. The association acts as a network through which the village elders can support each other and share experience on support measures and other issues. At the same time, the association also acts as a buffer between an official and a person, and facilitates taking regional needs and differences in the development of communities into account in support measures.
The authors of the article recommend the local governments to aim at bringing the financing of NGOs into accordance with the Guidelines for Financing, and to pay more attention to publishing the information relating to financing and monitor the use of subsidies more closely. The state should also give more support to the local governments in organising the financing by providing needs-based counselling and training. A systematic discussion should be initiated about the principles of delegating public services to NGOs, because the awareness of local governments on these issues is low. It would be reasonable for the parties to consider how to contribute more into the development of communities by involving the village elders, village associations and associations of village elders in the distribution of subsidies. It would be useful for communities to establish associations of village elders also in the municipalities where they do not exist yet.