Govt’s Resolute Stand on NGOs

December 30th, 2008 | by addis portal |

Two senior government officials said their government’s stiff stance over the draft bill on registration and regulation of Charities and Societies will not change. 
 

Berhan Hailu, minister of Justice (MoJ), and Brehanu Adelo, secretary of the cabinet with ministerial portfolio told a parliamentary public hearing on the bill held last Wednesday, December 25, 2008, before it was sent to three standing committees of the Parliament for further scrutiny.
 

The Legal and Administration Affairs Standing Committee is responsible for examining the bill in collaboration with Foreign Security and Social Affairs Standing committees.
 

Chaired by Asmelash Weldeselasie (MP-EPRDF), the Legal and Administration Affairs Standing Committee organized the public debate on the proclamation. The public hearing on the controversial charities and societies bill attracted a huge crowd that forced the standing committee to use the main conference hall of the Parliament building unlike the trend to use small halls.
 

Maintaining the country’s democracy and development is the major reason for the government to draft the bill, according to senior government officials.
 

But many of the charities and societies in Ethiopia and opposition MPs stood against the bill.

 

Ethiopian Charities or Ethiopian Societies shall mean those Charities or Societies that are formed under the laws of Ethiopia, all of whose members are Ethiopians, generate income from Ethiopia and wholly controlled by Ethiopians. However, they may be deemed as Ethiopian charities or Ethiopian societies if they use not more than ten percent of their funds which is received from foreign sources, according to Article-2 of the draft bill.
 

Lidetu Ayalew (MP-UEDP) wonders how this article could be considered as suitable while most of the population is not in a position to contribute to the charitable organizations.
 

Stakeholders repeatedly requested the government to lift the article in various discussions with different government officials including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The government stood firm on the article under discussion and made some changes. However, the NGOs are not satisfied with the changes.
 

The other article considered by NGOs as challenging in their activities is the article that enumerates charitable purposes. It lists 15 charitable purposes of which five are prohibited for foreign charities.

Advancement of human and democratic rights; promotion of equality of nations, nationalities and peoples and that of gender and religion; promotion of the rights of the disabled and children’s rights, conflict resolutions and reconciliations and promotion of the efficiency of the justice and law enforcement services are the prohibited areas for foreign charities.
 

Lidetu argued that it is better to prohibit foreign charities only after achieving full economic independence. But the actual economic status of the country does not allow us to do so.
 

“Therefore it is better to control them [foreign charities] through other mechanisms,” Lidetu urged the architects of the bill.
 

However, Berhanu’s response made it clear that the government’s stand is very unlikely to change.

“The ten per cent funding from foreign sources is still poisonous; but we decided to handle all the consequences,” he told the participants.

 

The public hearing, thus, ended without a consensus on any of the articles.

“It is our responsibility to consider ideas from all sides and provide the parliament with adequate information to vote on,” Asmelash told Fortune.

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