Representatives of several civil society organisations (CSO) have raised concerns about the proposed bill to regulate foreign contributions terming the law a violation of a resolution passed by the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (HRC).
The law, a draft of which has been finalised by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government, will be introduced to regulate foreign funds or contributions that non-governmental organisations (NGO) – both local and international – receive and utilise.
Over the course of this month, several consultative sessions of CSOs were organised in Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad by the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network, Tribal NGOs Consortium, among others.
The sessions aimed to discuss the content and implications of the proposed legislation and its policies, and resulted in the participants developing a comprehensive paper which documented their concerns and recommendations.
According to documents available with The Express Tribune, one of the major concerns the CSOs’ representatives expressed is that the proposed law is a violation of a resolution passed by the UN’s HRC on March 21, 2013, which bars governments from putting restrictions on CSOs’ access to foreign funds.
The representatives maintain that NGOs in Pakistan are formed independently of the state but get registered voluntarily in order to obtain authorisation to pursue activities intended for the public’s benefit. Thus, registration qualifies NGOs to access public development funds, be they from external donors or the government.
The CSOs’ members complained the legislation would negatively impact small and medium organisations in the country by potentially restricting or limiting their access to funding.
Furthermore, after the passage of the 18th Amendment, provincial governments have a greater role in observing and guiding the work of local NGOs and CSOs. The representatives argued that the law, having a centre-oriented character, will infringe the domain of provincial governments.
Here’s the solution
One of the recommendations that the CSOs gave maintains that the government should seek to forge a strategic partnership with NGOs and other stakeholders operating in the non-profit sector in order to achieve its own long-term development goals.
They also reached the conclusion that the government must recognise NGOs as strategic partners in national development, and create an environment conducive for them to operate in and contribute effectively to national development.
Who’s the boss?
Qamar Naseem, a representative of the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network, told The Express Tribune the civil society strongly feels the government wants to control social organisations through coercive measures which will have an adverse affect on their work.
According to TNC Coordinator Zar Ali Khan, a large number of CSOs actually compliment the work of state organs. “Thousands of volunteers are working through these organisations and contributing towards poverty alleviation, enhancing literacy, improving health services and other social sectors,” he said.
“The new regulations are only being passed to increase bureaucratic hurdles for NGOs. The government is trying to establish its hegemony over the social sector,” added Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2014.