Labor and Grassroots Civic Interests In Regional Institutions
There is a vibrant regional civil society in Asia with numerous civil society organizations (CSOs) advancing a range of economic, political and social causes using three key strategies, namely regional advocacy, civil society parallel summits, and civil society partnerships with states and regional institutions. Although regional institutions have become more willing to engage with non-elite or grassroots civil society and labor groups, business networks are still privileged in institutional processes. Consequently, regional institutions fail to tap the information and knowledge resources of CSOs to enhance the quality of regional institutional governance, defined as the effectiveness of governance institutions as well as their accountability to stakeholders. The paper outlines three interrelated strategies to correct this deficit. First, regional institutions should provide and safeguard a regional 'public sphere' in which officials and a variety of CSOs, not just those sharing official views, can engage each other in reasoned discussion. Second, regional institutions should develop more formalized or regularized mechanisms (as opposed to ad hoc or informal measures) through which CSOs can submit research reports, position papers, and comments on the various items on the regional institutional agenda, particularly on new agreements. The Asian Development Bank's NGO and Civil Society Center offers one institutional model. Third, regional institutions should establish formal accountability mechanisms such as a formal complaints procedure through which stakeholders and their CSO representatives can bring claims against regional institutions as well as internal and independent evaluation mechanisms.