When harshest critics accuse GONG of doing their job properly because they work well and transparently, we can all but agree and respond with an even greater degree of transparency to the systematic contamination of public space with false data and manipulation.
GONG: a self-indulgent spender or a Croatian exporter?
In 2003, GONG had its largest annual budget, amounting to HRK 7.1 million, whereas the average annual budget for the period from 2011 to 2015 was HRK 3.9 million.
The biggest part of GONG`s annual budget entails earmarked funds from grants approved at public tenders, with 75 to 90% of grants coming from foreign sources (see the following chart). Whether or not you choose to call GONG a successful exporter or proclaim our donors to be foreign investors who do not seek to make profit out of this investment, it must be pointed out that all of the revenues originating from these sources, except for a part of travel costs, are spent on employees’ salaries, procurement of goods and services, and paying taxes and surtaxes in Croatia.
EU funds – that is, revenues coming from EU tax-payers – are successfully balanced with grants from other international and domestic donors which include public and private sources, as well as earned income from GONG’s self-financing. This diversification of financial sources enables the autonomy and sustainability of the organization, and proves that GONG‘s work is recognised by EU bodies authorized to allocate grants to NGOs.
GONG’s main domestic financial source is the National Foundation for Civil Society Development whose revenues come from games of chance – casinos, the lottery and betting offices – and not from tax-payers. These sources are allocated according to the law, as well as defined quotas and criteria for different socially beneficial purposes, which is not specific only for Croatia, but is a widespread European practice.
GONG: a budgetary parasite or responsible payer?
GONG receives earmarked revenues from the state budget through a public tender procedure, however analysis for the period from 2011-2015 reveals that those revenues amount to 840.000 kuna, while at the same time GONG’s payments into the state budget total about 4.6 million kuna (income tax, surtax, pension fund, healthcare insurance, value added tax, profit tax), which is five times more in comparison to the received amount. In other words, the state profited 3.8 million kuna from GONG’s work.
GONG’s professionalism: a virtue or a flaw?
While some NGOs rely exclusively on the work of their volunteers, for GONG both volunteers and professional activists are necessary, because there is a constant need to carry out analyses, public advocacy, coordination of volunteers, as well as the organization of many activities. Details are available in annual reports, and until the report for 2015 is published, it is valuable to point out that today GONG has 14 employees, 12 external experts who volunteer in the Council and the Supervisory Board, and 30 volunteers, including interns.
Structure of education of employees consists of ten people with university diplomas, three people with polytechnic school diplomas, and one person with high school diploma (who is also studying). Among people with university diplomas, three of them have an MA in their field, one person is currently attending MBA, and three people are doctoral students. GONG`s team is multidisciplinary due to a wide range of academic backgrounds, including political science, journalism, social pedagogy, sociology, ethnology, linguistics, English language studies, Russian language studies, mathematics, law, accounting, economy, and agriculture. Besides, GONG often enables practice for students of final years, and professional development of its own employees through specializations in public policy analysis, policy evaluation, statistics, fundraising, independent accounting, non-profit accounting, etc.
On the basis of providing intellectual services, GONG has managed to cover 25 % of the costs of its projects and programs currently not supported by usual donors. Precisely with the aim of covering the costs of non-project activities, in 2010 GONG has launched GRIF – a specialised non-profit accounting service that provides services to 40 different NGOs, and which helped to create three new self-sustainable jobs.
11 out of 14 employees are permanently employed, but the bigger success is to have the number of employees reduced only by a fifth (from 17 to 14), in spite of decline in revenues of 37 %, during the last five years. The average salary is 6.497,00 kuna, which is 10 % more than the national average for all employments. GONG contributes to the budget all of the fees, taxes, and surtaxes regularly. This proves that human capital is highly valued in GONG.
Besides, differences in salaries are based on differences in responsibilities, which is reflected in the 1:1,8 ratio between the lowest and the highest salary, that is, between the office manager’s salary and the executive director’s salary. Irrespective of their functional responsibilities, all of the employees are expected to take part in the “workers’ self-management” (as it was called during socialism) or “employee participation in decision-making” (as it is called in capitalist terms): members of the organization choose the governing body called the Council which also includes employees; The Council elects the Executive Board (employees also participate here through consultations), whose members elect among themselves the Executive Director. Every employee participates in operational decision-making through weekly meetings, as well as in processes of strategic planning. In that way, responsibility is shared, rigid hierarchy avoided, and an opportunity to attain management skills is given to younger and less experienced employees.
GONG’s volunteer group includes interns as well. They are 5-7 students of final years in political science, law, or humanities and other social sciences, recruited through an application process. They translate, analyse, and write articles; they participate in research, and in the organization of public events, with mentoring support. According to their feedback, this gives them the opportunity to gain knowledge and develop various skills that are helpful in finding good jobs in Croatia or in the EU. In the last three years, GONG participated in the state-subsidized internship program for young professionals, thanks to which two young people found employment (one person in GONG, the other in private sector).
GONG: a pro-government NGO or a corrective to every government?
The following are just a few highlights of GONG’s advocacy, as a reminder of how GONG acted in a “pro-government” or “anti-government” manner, since its founding in 1997, during different governments: the 2001 initiative Official Gazette to the People under the Račan government, when GONG hacked the official web-page of Official Gazette and hence prevented the decision to charge the public contents; the disclosure of `dead people voting´ in the 2005 election under the Sanader government; Platform 112 ‘s monitoring of the closing of Chapter 23 during the negotiations with the EU during the term of Jadranka Kosor; and, during the Milanović government, the campaign Citizens Vote AGAINST (opposing the heteronormative constitutional definition of marriage, initiated by the neo-conservative movement In the Name of Family) and the referendum initiative WE ARE NOT GIVING AWAY OUR MOTORWAYS, which stopped the monetization of Croatian highways.
During all these years, GONG’s direction has been steady, geared towards building and strengthening democratic institutions – by means of cooperation with authorities whenever they were open to it, and through confrontations with authorities whenever they obstructed or neglected GONG’s invitation for dialogue. Dialogue was possible and achieved on many occasions, for example in 2006 when the Law on the State Electoral Commission was adopted (under the Sanader government); in 2011, when the Government abolished the Law on Golf (under the Kosor government); in 2013, when public protests were allowed again on St. Mark’s Square, the function of the Information Commissioner established, and the Voter Register was cleared-up eventually (under the Milanović government).
As a reminder, it should be stated that, since 1997, GONG has expanded its primary purpose – citizens organised to oversee voting (which was the original name of the organisation in Croatian, abbreviated as GONG), in order to strengthen all democratic processes, institutions, and political culture. Thus, since 2000, its name has been reduced to simply – GONG. And yes, you might call GONG a pro-GOVERNment organization, if it is understood as `good GOVERNance and the rule of law´.