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III.4. The civil society-State relationship is at the core of policies

While it is important to distinguish civil society from the State, it is pointless to treat them as two separate entities. . . . Civil society only flourishes where civil liberties are dovetailed into political liberties and where there is interdependence between the actions of individuals and communities and government decisions.

Claude Lefort

Fragile institutions are often the result of a low level of economic development combined with a varying number of political factors. Consequently, policies to fight poverty must incorporate measures to strengthen institutions (in countries where the State is weak) and to set up machinery for civil society-State participation and communication (where there is a gap between public institutions and the population).

SIXTH RECOMMENDATION: The State has a major role to play in protecting the needy and providing a public arena for handling conflicts. Policies to fight poverty must encourage the creation or enrichment of the public arena. Action will focus on two areas:

  • Promoting the recognition of neighbourhood organizations as legitimate actors in the

formation of the public arena.

  • Setting up facilities for discussion and participation as features of public policies.

Four guidelines ensue: a. When policies are focused on civil society (support for grassroots initiatives) they will be designed to bring in local government and involve the State. This is indispensable if policies are not to widen the already-existing gap between people and the public arena. As a first step towards abolishing the tension that often exists between population and authorities, an action system could be set up involving neighbourhood associations, the development NGO and municipalities. Subsequent action at a higher level should be dovetailed into a regulatory legal framework and should provide a template for public policy. Failing this, the best outcome to be expected is a micro-project that is successful but has no major impact. b. NGOs and international bodies (UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF, etc.) have a crucial role to play in legitimizing local and State organizations, with a specific place being earmarked for each actor. c. Support must be solicited from the State (where necessary) in its dual capacity as regulator of social life and watchdog of the public arena. State support will be channelled particularly but not exclusively into local government capacity-building. The involvement of government bodies at the national level is recommended to prevent policies from being limited in scope and so that “social” aspects are not dissociated from the sphere of citizens’ “rights”.


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