Govt. to tighten NGO controls | Daily News


 

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Govt. to tighten NGO controls

The National Secretariat for NGOs has asked the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Education and Human Resource Development to give necessary instructions and guidance to expedite amending of the Voluntary Social Service Organizations (Registration and Supervision) Act No. 31 of 1980 to enable it to meet current national security needs, especially in the light of new types of national security threats exemplified by the Easter bombings. The Sectoral Oversight Committee has asked for the speeding up of the drafting of amendments for strengthening of the Voluntary Social Service Organizations (Registration and Supervision) Act No. 31 of 1980.

The original Draft Bill, which was approved by the Cabinet on February 20, 2018 was not implemented after many civic action groups expressed unhappiness over some of the proposed amendments and is yet to be presented in Parliament.

In its observations submitted to the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Education and Human Resource Development on Batticaloa Sharia Campus, the National Secretariat for NGOs has pointed out that not strengthening the NGO Act has hindered several investigations now launched by the Criminal Investigation Department into certain NGOs in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attack. In a memorandum to the Sectoral Committee, the NGO Secretariat points out that: “The gazette notification and the presentation of the Bill to Parliament were delayed due to some reasons. Documents required to gazette the Bill have now been sent to the Secretary of the Ministry of National Coordination, Official Languages and Reconciliation.” Therefore, the Secretariat proposes to the Sectoral Committee that it provides “advice and guidance to expedite the drafting of the amendment Bill and on presentation of it to Parliament”.

The NGO Secretariat observes: “At the investigation on the aftermath of the terrorist activities on 21 April starting further investigations by the CID into several registered NGOs and that identification of some of the related organizations operate without registration has created problematic situation to security forces and intelligence sections for investigation and making decisions, due to not strengthening the NGO Act.”

Pointing out its own lack of a legal institutional basis, the Secretariat says that the amendments will enable the National Secretariat for NGOs to function legally. The National Secretariat for NGOs has been established without an Act. Approval has now been received for drafting of necessary amendments to the NGOs Act, the Secretariat says.

Furthermore, the Secretariat points out that the NGOs Act has no proper legal provisions to enable monitoring of foreign fund remittances, large amounts of which enter Sri Lanka via NGOs. “A large number of organizations receiving large amounts of foreign aid from the Middle East, even at the regional level, do not have a formal oversight of the amounts and activities for which they are being used. Foreign aid from a lot of organizations in the Middle East should be monitored. This money should be directed to the public for the benefit of all communities in the country. But the NGOs Act does not have necessary regulations for that,” it added.

The NGO Secretariat has also highlighted the importance of having a proper mechanism for registering NGOs in the country that then brings them under proper supervision. “It is essential that the NGOs in Sri Lanka be registered under one institution. In many countries this is being implemented. But in Sri Lanka there is no proper mechanism to do this. These amendments to the NGOs Act will make necessary background for this,” the Secretariat’s memorandum further said.

It also points out that, according to the agreement signed by Sri Lanka on the prevention of money laundering in the Asia-Pacific Region, the country should provide for regulations to strengthen the NGOs Act. This should include the mandatory registration of NGOs and monitoring of their money transactions.

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Sharia University funders not registered

The National Secretariat for NGOs has informed the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Education and Human Resource Development that the Hira Foundation and Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, both linked to the controversial Sharia Campus in Batticaloa, have failed to register with the Secretariat.

According to the NGO Secretariat, the trustees of both the Hira Foundation and Sri Lankan Hira Foundation “have avoided obtaining registration under the National Secretariat of NGOs, which is the only agency that monitors the activities of such foreign funded NGOs in Sri Lanka.” The Secretariat further observes that: “Steps have been taken to incorporate the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation by a Parliamentary Act on 02.12.2015.

Voluntary Social Services Organizations, incorporated in Parliament are not supervised, but they have access to foreign funding.

In that case, it is problematic that the foreign funds received by these organizations are not monitored on what purposes they are being used.”

The Hira Foundation has 90% of shares of the Batticaloa Campus Pvt. Ltd, that is, the Shariah University. The Sectoral Oversight Committee on Education has already unanimously recommended that the Batticaloa Campus to be taken over by the government under emergency regulations.


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