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‘Unlocking Democracy And Development’

Julie Fisher Melton’s upcoming book Importing Democracy (Kettering Foundation) studies how so-called “democratization NGOs” work to change political culture in South Africa, Argentina, and Tajikistan.

The NGOs profiled in the book nurture democratic values by engaging in projects such as setting up local radio stations and talking to police about human rights.

Melton, pictured above, is also a contributor to the anthology Combating Corruption: Political Corruption in Comparative Perspective, forthcoming from Ashgate. She has said, “Combating corruption unlocks both democracy and development.”

We thank her for taking the time to answer our questions.

*     *     *

What sorts of opportunities exist for businesses to partner with democratization NGOs?

My only real example of a democratization NGO working to strengthen the business sector in order to strengthen civil society comes from Argentina. Fundacion Compromiso focuses on management and networking for both NGOs and businesses. In the words of [past executive director] Mariana Lome, “FC’s goal is to professionalize the civil society sector.” A program called Empresa y Comunidad provides technical assistance to businesses on social responsibility. Hundreds of corporate volunteers are paired with community-based organizations.

What can democratization NGOs do on the local level to help companies avoid paying bribes in places where doing so is common?

I would recommend that businesses get in touch with one strong NGO such as Poder Ciudadano and work from there to develop a local support and knowledge network on this issue.  In South Africa they could contact IDASA.  Unfortunately, there is no TI chapter in Tajikistan, but there are key individuals who could help such as [Head of Tajikistan’s NGO Association] Shamsiddin Karimov and [human rights activist] Rahmatillo Zoirov.

Over the next ten years, where should we expect to see positive change vis a vis development of a democratic political culture?

I am generally optimistic about Argentina. I think Tajikistan has a long way to go, but we should see some progress. It is already slightly less authoritarian than its Central Asian neighbors, according to Freedom House. South Africans tend to have an instrumental view of democracy — i.e,  their support for it depends on its ability to do something about poverty. And unless there is progress on this front, South Africa’s democratic political culture will confront new obstacles.

Do you feel NGOs are doing all they should to encourage governments to enact contract reform?

No, they are not. Most of them are underfunded and spread thin. What I do not understand is why there isn’t more international support for Transparency International and their local chapters. TI’s support for Poder Ciudadano was only $4000 per year when I was in Argentina, even though Poder has a significant presence, in collaboration with local democratization NGOs, in municipal contract reform.


Benjamin Kessler is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog and the managing editor of ethiXbase. He can be contacted here.

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