IDEAS MEDIA STATEMENT
Set up Charities Commission to regulate NGO funding
Kuala Lumpur, 4 November 2016 – Commenting on calls by Minister Datuk Paul Low and Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman to ban foreign funding and for greater scrutiny over ‘political’ non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Chief Executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Wan Saiful Wan Jan said, “A ban on foreign funding is unnecessary but I fully support the spirit behind these suggestions – that is to promote and enhance transparency and accountability among NGOs”.
“If NGOs call for greater transparency and accountability in government, then they should also apply those principles to themselves and lead by example. I am particularly pleased that Azalina suggested for the proposed Political Donations and Expenditure Act (PDEA) to be the basis for regulating NGO funding. This law does not yet exist as it was proposed as part of the National Consultative Committee on Political Financing’s recommendations. I was a member of that Committee chaired by Datuk Paul Low and I am elated that another Cabinet member has now shown open support for the Committee’s ideas.”
“Many of the Committee’s recommendations can also be used to regulate funding for civil society as the principles of transparency and accountability envisioned by the Committee’s proposal should be applicable to everyone. However, I wonder what is meant by the term ‘politically-interested’ NGOs. Does this mean that any organisation interested in pursuing matters such as transparency and good governance is also deemed politically inclined? What about local chapters of international bodies like Transparency International or Amnesty International? Will they no longer be able to receive foreign funds from their headquarters?”, asked Wan Saiful.
“This is why we cannot use the measures designed for political parties on NGOs. Most NGOs are set up for the purpose of advancing a social cause, usually environmental, economic, welfare or health. The funding obtained is used to implement projects which go towards addressing issues which help Malaysians. It is important to remember that NGOs are run by people who are working towards a better Malaysia. Those issues can indeed be political. I see no problem with this.”
“There are clear differences between political parties and NGOs. To properly regulate civil society, forming a Charities Commission is the better approach, as opposed to taking the PDEA wholesale. Having such a commission is the normal practice in developed countries.”
“The United Kingdom’s Charity Commission could be one potential model to consider. Its Board Members are independent and their interests and previous affiliations are even listed online on www.gov.uk, to ensure that any conflicts can be highlighted by the public. The commission’s aims would be ensuring that NGOs provide truthful information on their activities and expenditure. This strengthens public confidence in the NGO community and increases the government’s understanding of this sector.”
“However, NGOs should be encouraged to speak up and be able to voice out criticism even when it is not favourable to the government. They must not be punished for speaking truths and realities. I am certain that a mature government like ours is more than willing and happy to receive constructive criticism”, concluded Wan Saiful.