In this episode, we talk about civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Republic of Moldova and their challenges, many exacerbated by the pandemic and the political crisis. The adoption of the law on non-profit organizations in June 2020 is probably the most important change for civil society in the past year. Why a new law was necessary and what improvements it brings are just some of the topics discussed with this episode’s guest, the lawyer Aliona Țurcan. 

Aliona is an expert and trainer in good governance of civil society organizations, strategic planning and advocacy. She has participated in drafting many draft laws targeting civil society activities, including the new 2020 CSO Law as well as the one on the percentage designation mechanism, known as the 2% Law. This year, almost one thousand NGOs are fighting for the 2% tax, an amount that can be donated by any taxpayer. But who knows them and how do they become known to gain visibility and funding?

Aliona Țurcan: The simplest 2% mechanism allows all country’s citizens who have an income to participate in the distribution of public money. Nolens volens, we pay income tax when we have a salary, 100% of this tax goes to the state budget. By the percentage designation, you can participate in the distribution of this budget and withhold 2% of this tax, which you have given to the state, to designate to an organization that you want to support. I think it is a pretty good contribution, which somehow, whether you like it or not, makes the organization visible in the community. 

This mechanism not only aims to support organizations as well as their visibility and actions in the community, because an organization that is not known in the community does not work for the benefit of the community, the probability is very low that it will be for its benefit.

Cu DREPTul: To what extent do citizens understand the importance of these 2% and the importance of supporting civil society organizations?

Aliona Țurcan: To the extent the organization makes them understand it. The biggest burden, however, is on the organization. The organization must make a promotion campaign through its activities, through its actions, to make it clear to the citizen that he/she has the right to designate this amount and it is already the competition to designate this specific amount in favor of this organization. 

The list of beneficiaries of the percentage designation is growing. If we had 200 in the first year, we have close to one thousand now, that is, the competition is growing. 

Educating the citizen is also one of the goals of civil society. Hence, we also educate the citizen. The law says that a person who has two or more sources of income is required to file an income tax return. If the person has income from a single source, he or she is not required to file the income tax return, but if the person wishes to exercise their right to percentage designation, they must file the return. 

Cu DREPTul: What are the most acute problems facing civil society organizations? 

Aliona Țurcan: One of the problems I would see in the cooperation between the state bodies and civil society, starting from the highest level. Historically, there have been some attempts to collaborate with civil society at the level of platforms, of the national participation council, such a structure used to exist. At present, the cooperation among Parliament, Government, ministries and civil society is not institutionalized in any way. We do not have a clear document to lay the foundations for such collaboration and cooperation. If at the local level, for example, we find more positive examples and positive collaboration practices, this collaboration is not formalized at the state level. 

Cu DREPTul: How do you explain that such an openness of the government does not exist?

Aliona Țurcan: First, there are enough people in government who do not understand what civil society means and do not understand the role of civil society to act for the benefit of the citizen or for the benefit of a layer of society. 

Organizations are quite specialized, there are platforms and alliances in place, which work together to promote certain policies. State support exists at the level of legal provisions. Unfortunately, we have the ‘very bad’ and ‘ambiguous’ qualifiers in terms of implementation, when trying to do something, when the local public administration that has its own budget and a reserve balance usually uses it to co-finance various projects aimed at community development and service delivery. The Republic of Moldova is a country that has very good legislation and I am telling you this as a lawyer who has been practicing in the field for many years. We have a very good legal basis and a regulatory framework. Unfortunately, we are very bad in terms of implementation, in terms of translating as they used to say before – those legal provisions into practice. We do not have clear implementation mechanisms. 

Cu DREPTul: The crisis caused by the pandemic has not bypassed NGOs either. Which ones have been mostly affected and how should they act so that this period is not considered wasted time? 

Aliona Țurcan: The pandemic has greatly affected the organizations that worked in services, the organizations that had various centers for providing services. Many were left without staff because such centers were closed or services could no longer be provided due to the restrictions. Many people lost their salaries, either entering technical unemployment, but NGOs had little way to cope with the conditions of technical unemployment and then, people, I know from my own experience, simply filed requests for dismissal. 

The resignation of the Government, in December, also affected some actions and initiatives, because they could not be carried out, since there are interim persons in ministries and agencies who, according to the law, cannot make decisions, decisions that were expected and things, somehow, stagnated.

The recommendation for the civil society is to act together, to form alliances or platforms, any kind of associations, formal, non-formal, the main thing is to be lucrative and to understand what they promote, whom they target.

Cu DREPTul: I understand that the political crisis has also turned the plans of some organizations upside down. What should they do on the advocacy side, which is practically not possible in the absence of partially functional central institutions?

Aliona Țurcan: Advocacy is primarily about changing governance, changing policies and approaches. An advocacy campaign is not successful when not more than one actor is involved who know very clearly what the ultimate goal is, who have a clear message for the decision makers, who have a clear message for the supporters, clear strategies on how to achieve their goal. Of course, it takes a strengthened effort of the organizations working in this field to advocate at the national level.

If ten organizations come to the Government that are active in a certain field, with ten policy change visions, you realize that the governors will look and will not understand what you want. We need a consolidated and clear advocacy position. With a firm, clear position, no matter how great the reluctance, if we are consistent, if not this year, then next year, if not next year, then in three years, we will surely get it. 

Unfortunately, in the context of the political crisis, we can only hope that no crisis is eternal and that somehow the situation will improve. We cannot jump over it, we cannot cross some barriers that, for example, the legislation puts on us. To make a super good legislative initiative, but that would require the approval of the Government, which is not able to give it to us and thus we cannot go to the Parliament because we cannot go through the Government. This is an obvious example. In some cases, unfortunately, we just have to wait or focus on other tasks that we can perform directly. 

Cu DREPTul: Some organizations, especially local ones, still have to work directly with the beneficiaries, regardless of the pandemic. What levers would exist or could they develop, so that the quality of services does not suffer?

Aliona Țurcan: The local public administration, the local authorities are more responsive to the organizations that act at local or regional level, because they are closer, friendlier, more neighbor-like. Cooperation leaves much to be desired when local decision-makers do not understand the aims and objectives of the association. What every organization needs to emphasize is that it actually works for the benefit of the community, it works to solve the problems of the beneficiaries. 

The local public administration should be educated; it should not see a competitor but rather an ally in these local organizations, understand exactly that the problems in the locality can be solved more easily with the involvement of civil society, with the involvement of a civic association that can write a project, that is eligible for a project for which the local public administration is not eligible, and vice versa. A civic association can help the local public administration write an infrastructure project, because the local public administration does not have the project writing skills that the civic association does, but the latter is not eligible, and so, the two should make a consortium, when it is a win-win situation, and should go hand in hand, understand they are allies. Things will go very well when the LPA understands this and where it involves civil society. Usually, there are two or three active organizations at the local level. 


This text is an excerpt from the CuDREPTul podcast. The full version, audio and text, exists only in Romanian.