The South African Institute for Advancement has released a report into government’s proposed new policy framework for South African civil society. The Institute commissioned the research when it became evident that government was exploring the implementation of a new NPO Act. The current Non-Profit Organisations Act, No 71 of 1997 replaced the former Fundraising Act which the apartheid regime set up to prevent funding reaching organisations advocating for democracy.
Inyathelo Executive Director, Shelagh Gastrow, says the latest moves by government to amend the NPO Act could threaten civil society’s hard won independence. “While elements of the new proposals are to be supported, such as the simplification of the registration process for NPOs, we have grave concerns relating to the implementation of mandatory governance rules or codes by Government. Civil society’s independence is underpinned by its right to freedom of association and therefore self-regulation. We also reject government’s proposal to give the proposed South African Non-profit Organisations Regulatory Authority (SANPORA) investigative and enforcement powers that include the ability to enforce punitive measures. And lastly, we cannot agree with the proposal that decisions by the proposed South African Nonprofit Organisations Tribunal (SANPOTRI) be binding to all parties concerned. NPOs should be allowed to appeal decisions made by SANPOTRI through the courts,” insists Gastrow.
The research involved twelve interviews with government officials, legal experts and civil society representatives, including two NPO lawyers, five NPO Directors and three officials from the Department of Social Development, including the Chief Director of the NPO Directorate. Inyathelo Project Co-ordinator, Janine Ogle, says most interviewees agreed that government proposals to make the registration of foreign NPOs compulsory needed to be more thoroughly debated. “We believe this measure should only be implemented once there is conclusive evidence that current policies and tax systems are not sufficient to mitigate the risk of money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities. At the moment, it could be seen as scare-mongering tactics aimed at controlling the flow of funding to certain civil society organisations that may not support the government’s political agenda,” says Ogle.
Another area of concern highlighted in the report is the lack of effective consultation with the non-profit sector. A number of the NPO Directors interviewed say the NPO Directorate needs to undertake widespread consultation with the full spectrum of civil society organisations and not only those that are recipients of funds from the provincial and national departments of Social Development. Gastrow says Inyathelo is concerned that some of the provisions in the new framework are driven by issues relating to government funding of welfare organisations and the need for accountability in respect of those funds. “While it is understandable that government would wish to track those funds more efficiently, this issue should not be bound into proposals for new NPO legislation. Civil society organisations are not merely providing government services, but represent a huge range of organisations and initiatives that are involved in activities that often have nothing to do with government services. Inyathelo encourages citizen action, independent of government, as the foundation for a vibrant and healthy civil society,” says Gastrow.
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