In an effort to move towards a people-centred ASEAN, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are to be given a greater role to play within ASEAN.
The revised Guidelines on Relations with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) issued by the ASEAN Secretariat would encourage greater cooperation and exchange of information between ASEAN governments and civil society in areas such as healthcare, business, law, technology, sports etc to create an ASEAN Community.
According to the revised Guidelines, ASEAN-affiliated NGOs / CSOs will “receive updated information on Asean’s major policies, directives and decisions. They will also be given the opportunity of participating in selected Asean activities and can submit project proposals for third party funding through Asean”. Other measures in the Guideline included allowing the CSOs access to ASEAN documents and use of the facilities of the Secretariat for official meetings and activities.
ASEAN Secretariat’s conscious efforts to engage the CSOs in helping promote the development of a people-centred ASEAN Community while laudable may not be seen as far reaching enough. An op-ed piece in Jakarta Post written by the Secretary-General of the Indonesian Working Group for Human Security was critical of what ASEAN has achieved so far in its almost 40 years of existence.
He criticized ASEAN leaders for “striving more for the sake of retaining the existence of ASEAN per se than working towards making a concrete contribution to the well-being of the ASEAN people” and urged them to be more sensitive to the needs of the people and to implement the promises made in the umpteen declarations and statements.
The revised Guidelines may be just one small step and may not fully satisfy those that are critical of ASEAN’s progress so far. But to many who are more sympathetic to the constraints of ASEAN, if indeed political leaders and civil society activists can work together more in concert, many of the challenges facing ASEAN and its people can perhaps be better addressed.
Asean issues revised guidelines on relations with CSOs (Bernama, 7 July 2006)
Four decades of Asean: A quandary? (Jakarta Post, 7 July 2006)
Asean must solve regional dispute to achieve security community (Bernama, 7 July 2006)