By Begaim Usubalieva, August 2014
Fredrik Galtung has observed that the top 30 countries with low levels of corruption are either small (with populations of less than 10 million) or they were patient, with reforms taking 50 and sometimes over 100 years to take hold. There are plenty of small countries with endemic corruption. So being small is no guarantee of being well governed. My country, Kyrgyzstan, with a population of 5.7 million, has had two revolutions in recent years, in 2005 and 2010. This indicates that we are not especially patient. Our people are demanding change and I do not think that we can wait 50 or 100 years to see improved governance in our daily lives. Although we have not been able to sustain and deepen reforms in the past, I want to suggest that creating the right incentives would be an important factor in making Kyrgyzstan a strong candidate for successful, “impatient reform".
Civil society definitely can play a key role in this situation. Our civil society is considered to be very strong in Kyrgyzstan, especially in comparison with other countries in the region. It has all the capabilities to be a leader in bringing the range of different stakeholders together.
Integrity Action has been operating its projects in Kyrgyzstan since 2009, working in the most mountainous and remote parts of the country, characterised by a high level of poverty and remoteness from central government. I would like to give some examples of collaboration that were used by Integrity Action where the implementing partners are community based organisations (CBOs), academic experts/universities and legal advocates. We think that our approach can be replicated in other regions of the country, as well as considered in building stronger cooperation between public officials, CBOs, NGOs, universities and business at the national level to address the integrity challenges we have in the country.
Public officials: At the local level in our project locations we have established Joint Working Committees or Joint Working Groups (JWG). These are multi-stakeholder committees which bring together Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), local government authorities and service providers at the local level to discuss identified needs, agree on solutions, and develop joint action plans to address identified issues. At the initial stage of monitoring, the government officials responded negatively to the findings of the monitoring groups. Gradually, their perceptions changed due to joint collaboration in implementation of joint projects and various service delivery improvements, which helped to build trust with the local population and generally has had an effect on people’s sense of empowerment and citizenship. For example, when Integrity Action began work in 2009, the rubbish collection service in the city of Batken was dismally poor. Council officials blamed a lack of investment on high unemployment rates, saying that money generated through local taxes was almost non-existent. But the problem was much deeper. Residents who could afford to pay garbage collection services were refusing to do so because they were suspicious that their taxes would never get beyond the pockets of the directors. The Joint Working Group was presented with strong evidence highlighting that the town was full of rubbish, there was uncontrolled fly-tipping, people were burning rubbish, and there was entrenched institutional corruption within the service provider. The city council agreed to appoint a new director of the rubbish collection service. Later on, it was proved that corruption reduced by 80 percent.
Of course, this model of collaboration might not be so successful in other locations like the big city of Osh, which is the country’s second biggest city, or in the capital, Bishkek. In Osh, despite some good project results, we struggled to establish continued cooperation with the mayor’s office. One explanation may be that it is a big city with large-scale and complex service delivery issues. But we haven’t given up and we are still trying to see how we can have an impact in Osh. Our monitoring groups are working at the rural district levels of Osh to identify the problems and find solutions for better provision of water and sanitation services.
In Bishkek we provided training for civil servants and university academics. The next step would be to use our expertise and experts in promoting and participating in different initiatives on Anti-Corruption platforms consisting of different stakeholders. Currently the Ministry of Economy of the Kyrgyz Republic is trying to set these up.
CBOs and NGOs: For the life-time of a particular project, NGOs and CBOs try to show results and ensure continued funding for their work. In the course of our programme we tried to focus on capacity building of smaller NGOs and CBOs as well as providing small grants to them. In Osh, Rano Usipova was a part of a human rights centre called Ukuk, which did not have a permanent establishment. With our support, she managed to set up her own NGO, Mumtaz Center, and she is continuing to work with a focus on improved service delivery in the areas of water provision and sanitation from an integrity perspective. Taking as a basis our integrity indicators developed with UNDP, she has succeeded in receiving funding from other donors to continue her monitoring activities. Five years ago, the organisation Young Leaders of Naryn in Naryn town, was a group of youth that tried to mobilise youth and they made their first steps in getting the funds for their projects. At that time they did not have well-established accounting and organisational systems. Step-by-step, with the support of different donors including MSDSP KG (initiative of Aga Khan Foundation) and Integrity Action, they have grown into a leading organisation that is now successfully mobilising their community. They are part of different networks and they have become the first contact point for local government and national government in representing the voice of the youth of Naryn. In these cases people are motivated by working for the benefit and development of their organisation and also by their professional development for their future career. I suppose there are different incentives for our partners, like NGO Smail.kg in Osh and Insan Leilek in Isfana, dealing with social care and services provided for children and the elderly. The head of Smail.kg, Larisa Kuznetsova, deals with children with special needs, disabled and street children. In her words she has more of a personal motive or sense of responsibility and fulfillment of her personal mission when she sees the positive impact that her work has on the life of children and their families.
Isfana and Batken are deprived areas, with limited access to many basic services. Most of the young people and employable population migrated to Russia, leaving their elderly parents, children and relatives with no support. Employees of PF Insan Leilek, one of the few NGOs that works with the elderly in Batken and Isfana, are part of these communities themselves as social workers, staff of NGOs and representatives of CBOs, also affected by the situation through relatives and friends. There is also still a strong element of self-help and volunteerism in the society, which is the value that should be preserved.
Universities: Within Integrity Action’s Integrity Education Network we work with 48 universities/institutes in supporting them to develop and deliver locally-contextualised integrity education. University professors/teachers are interested in trainings that raise their professional capacity. During our focus group discussions, we spoke about the most corrupted and not-corrupted universities in the country, because there are some official and unofficial statistics on that. We hope to facilitate incentives for the universities with the strong integrity systems to be rewarded.
Business: We are at the beginning of working and engaging some business representatives in our activities. At the local level, we have examples where in the town of Chon-Alai our partners’ civil society network “Aykyn-Kyzmat” conducted an advocacy campaign to attract attention and find a solution for the damage to the local ecology caused by Chinese mining companies working in this location. Apart from requiring the Chinese gold mining companies Interbusiness Qaidi and Asia Gold Enterprises to remove and find proper locations for dangerous waste disposal, they were able to get some money for a social project in Chon-Alai. This is one way of engaging the business in social projects that appeared “accidentally”. At a larger scale, the charity law that will grant tax exemption for businesses making charitable donations, which is currently in the process of being passed, might serve as another dimension in the relations between business and civil society.
To sum up, it would be good to get back to the point that civil society could play the role of bringing all parties together and to be a facilitator in the process of change. The last report published by USAID on the 2013 CSOs Sustainability Index shows that “the key challenges that face CSOs in Kyrgyzstan continue to be financial vulnerability, diminishing access to capacity building services, and poor organisational capacity. Local CSOs remain dependent on financial and capacity support from international donors, while local capabilities to generate funding and provide local training remain inadequate”.
However, CSOs are progressing in advocacy, and national and local governments appreciate the services that CSOs provide to different social groups, often using CSOs to increase public participation in decision making. Moreover, businesses started to accept CSOs as important actors in social change and started to establish business associations and alliances as non-commercial, non-governmental organisations. Unfortunately, the Law on Foreign Agents that is currently under discussion may restrict these small, but significant improvements.
Some progress in bringing together CSOs, government, academia and business has been made. But in order to make real steps, clear, specific objectives should be set. The process of reforms is not easy and people should understand why they need to take certain risks. The declarations of reforms at the state level should be supported by real-life examples in the field.
 STOPE: Standards, Transparency, Oversight, Participatory process and Ethical framework.
 2013 CSO SUSTAINABILITY INDEX FOR CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE AND EURASIA, 17TH EDITION - JUNE 2014, Developed by:United States Agency for International Development, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia Office of Democracy, Governance and Social Transition
 2013 CSO SUSTAINABILITY INDEX FOR CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE AND EURASIA, 17TH EDITION - JUNE 2014, Developed by:United States Agency for International Development, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia Office of Democracy, Governance and Social Transition, p.118