Malta’s first commissioner for NGOs will be able to prevent organisations from being recognised by the state “on moral grounds”, refusing registration for organisations which are pro-abortion, amongst others.
This statement, uttered by lawyer Max Ganado at the launch of the draft Voluntary Organisations Act on Friday, raised a few eyebrows as he outlined other functions of the new commissioner who will offer guidance and advice as well as relevant monitoring.
The idea of the commissioner being appointed by the Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity however did not go down too well with all of the organisations. Due to the sensitivity of the office there are suggestions for the commissioner to undergo the same selection process in parliament like the ombudsman.
Minister Dolores Cristina hailed the White Paper as a “tangible structure which aims to help the credibility of voluntary organisations” and that the proposed legislation “will recognise and further strengthen the sector while providing support and various privileges.”
More importantly for the often fund-starved organisations, their recognition will mean that access to the fund and to international and European projects will be easier. Moreover this will safeguard the interests of clients and the public at large since the organisations will automatically become more transparent and responsible for their actions.
The Voluntary Organisations Act aims to regulate the sector in a more coordinated manner, proposing to “deal with the existing lacunae confronting the sector.”
Amendments to the civil code dealing with the concept of legal personality will also be proposed. Members of the executive will no longer be liable or legally responsible for their organisation’s actions. The act outlines the functions of the commissioner, the set-up of the Voluntary Organisations Fund and the role of the National Council for the Voluntary Sector.
Representatives of NGOs welcomed the White Paper, but they remarked that the lack of formal consultation regardingthe White Paper which concerns them was “at best strange.”
Adrian Grima of Inizjamed liked the idea of presenting the law “in an open way and the idea of an open consultation meeting in September.” He said he believed that it was a good idea not to delve into great detail when it comes to defining what constitutes a voluntary organisation especially because it avoids bureaucracy.
Although it highlights the importance of NGOs becoming more transparent and accountable, the White Paper is careful not to burden small NGOs with administrative work. The larger organisations will automatically be dealing with larger sums so they will be expected to hand in more intricate reports.
However Grima remarked that “vagueness also has its negative aspects. You can have strange situations like a government agency being eligible to benefit from privileges which are normally afforded to NGOs.”
The NGOs who spent months researching NGO law complained that “we are not sure on how closely they looked at the NGO law working group.”
The working group proposed to involve civil society in important decision-making bodies like the Broadcasting Authority and MCESD.
When asked by the member of the floor about these proposals, the minister and Ganado skirted the issue about access to media being imperative to voluntary organisations.
“A recognised NGO is giving a contribution to the country so it should also have the right to use the resources that they need. If the government really values the work of NGOS they should have access to public service media.”
NGOS have to get their act together and figure out a way to influence this legislation which ultimately will define the framework that they operate in.