By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Severe lack of resources to fund civil society organizations in Namibia might hinder effective service delivery to the people, especially those in marginalized communities. Civil society, experts say, is an important aspect of the democratization process as it provides a vital link between citizens and the State. It also provides an environment that can be used to enhance community cohesion and decision-making. In Namibia, the civil society/non-governmental institutions exist and operate in different parts of the country. According to the Chairman of the umbrella body, Namibian Non-Governmental Organizations Forum (NANGOF), Norman Tjombe, all these non-governmental institutions work in various areas and are involved in different activities throughout the country. Although they have made a difference in their areas of operation, one of the biggest constraints that calls for urgent intervention is the lack of funding from local sources. As things stand, most of these organizations are funded by external sources, which is a non-sustainable way of operating as these funding institutions may cease or divert their focus to other areas at any time. “We have to find ways of getting funding from within, especially from private companies. They fund sports, which is a good thing, but there are other areas also in need of such attention”, Tjombe said. Although Namibia is regarded as a middle-income country, the fact remains that there are a lot of poor people in a rich country. The discrepancy between the rich and the poor remains awful. If the country has to develop, Tjombe says, government should consider assisting civil society financially so as to complement outside funding. Due to mainly financial problems, civil society in Namibia has been unable to contribute meaningfully to issues which call for aggressive intervention. One such area is Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). Tjombe lamented that non-governmental organizations have not been vocal on this issue, despite the knowledge that matters are not being handled right. Concerns have been raised by some Namibians about some dubious deals being hammered out by some of the elite under the guise of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) schemes, at the expense of the struggling, poor masses. With all the recent numerous failed BEE projects in the country, few Namibian elites are still using what’s meant to be “broad-based” for selfish purposes and making a quick buck, without taking the plight of the majority poor into consideration. These concerns, as raised by many, call for a properly defined policy to ensure that BEE initiatives are truly broad-based and include the target groups, particularly the poor and the marginalized. “We need to change the attitude in order to have a more equitable distribution of resources,” he suggested. The land reform process has also been neglected by civil society. NANGOF’s chairman alleges that only a connected minority in the country continues to benefits from such initiatives. He views the government/civil society agreement as a window of opportunity that should enable the two parties to consolidate their efforts in correcting some of the wrongs, for the benefit of all Namibians. “The concern is that, despite Namibia being a democracy, it is fairly a one-party state, with the main focus being on Swapo Congress matters and not necessarily on the national elections,” he says. While civil society effectively participates in the decision-making for progress and development to take place in a society, and by contributing to the strengthening of democratic political systems, Tjombe condemned the opposition parties for failing to prove that they have a right to exist as long as Namibia is called a democratic country. “Many of them have gone into oblivion, and every year they are getting little support which actually puts pressure on civil society to ensure that social justice prevails,” stated. Similarly, the Education sector, HIV/AIDS, Gender-Based Violence, remain some of the non-medicated disasters in the country. In terms of social economic human rights, Tjombe believes, the country has failed. Most people still do not have proper shelter; they lack access to clean water; they suffer scarcity of services such as clinics, and gender inequalities still exist to a large extent. “There is need to remind government that these areas should be considered a high priority. It should be more responsive,” Tjombe added. While some segments of society regard civil society as troublemakers rather than organisations that are there to influence government for development’ sake, the past two years have seen notable growth in relationship between government and the civil society with the introduction of Government/Civil Society Partnership Policy. “We managed to consolidate the relationship with government. It is a very progressive policy which recognizes the role of Civil Society,” the Chairman of NANGOF said. So far, NANGOF has contributed to the Child Labour Bill and the Labour Bill to ensure that it is responsive to the Namibian situations. “We will continue to do our work despite the challenges”, Tjombe said. NANGOF seeks to sharpen the effectiveness of the sector and promote participatory democracy. It (NANGOF) provides a range of relevant services to NGOs and through them to grassroots communities, in order to improve the efficiency, professionalism and cost effectiveness of the voluntary sector. While maintaining its autonomy and independence, the network is prepared to affirm and support government wherever common ground is shared in terms of the social, economic development of the country and its people, Tjombe added. In 1991, NANGOF was formed. The network has since become the umbrella body of about 95 national Namibian NGOs consisting of regional and national affiliates and working in a wide range of development areas. NANGOF’s main goal is to create an environment in which the development sector can carry out its work with fewer obstacles, increased confidence and greater results at less cost.