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Tuesday, 17 August 2021 05:00

16.08.2021 - Sudden Appearance of NGO Legislation is ill Timed

The Cabinet of Ministers has directed the Legal Draftsman to draft legislation that would replace the existing legislation that covers NGOs.  The cabinet note on this issue points to the different laws that civil society organisations may register under and seeks to bring them all under a unified system of oversight.  It also gives the background of the Easter terror attack as requiring the new legislation which would ensure financial transparency and accountability. The National Peace Council finds it very concerning as the government has so far had no discussion with NGOs such as ours on these matters, or shared or made public the draft legislation that the Legal Draftsman will work on. The draft legislation has the potential to impact upon civil society independence and role as part of the system of democracy.

Sri Lanka has general laws covering terrorist financing, money laundering and transparency.  Special legislation to cover NGOs as a special category is liable to impact negatively on the independence of civil society from state regulators. We believe that it was not the lack of NGO regulation that permitted the heinous act of terror of the Easter bombings but the failure to monitor financial transactions within the available laws and regulations and also failure to follow on the intelligence information given to the state in this regard. Any regulation of NGOs should be compatible with the regulations of other non-state entities such as private companies and political parties. There is no justification to make scapegoats of NGOs when the inquiries on the Easter bombings continue to be contested in relation to the findings.

Ironically this call for draft legislation comes at a time when the government has been actively engaging with peacebuilding NGOs in discussions on the reconciliation process. The proposal for new legislation that could restrict the space for civil society undermines the credibility of this important initiative.  

Sri Lanka contains a diverse range of NGOs engaged in a diverse range of activities.  Any attempt to impose a uniform regime of NGOs would be impractical and inappropriate.  For instance, state regulation would strike at the very core of those civic organizations that monitor the state’s human rights record or groups that monitor corruption in governance.  The concept of the independent existence of NGOs as voluntary organisations at the community level, such as temple societies and small village organisations which is part of our culture, may be lost in the process of unification. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the legislation regarding the NGO sector will not be formulated without the wider participation of the NGO sector as a whole and not only with government-friendly ones.

Governing Council
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.