Government Pressures Civil Society

NGO Leaders Fear the New Draft Law Squeezes Civil Society

Since last year, the government officials, including President Eduard Shevardnadze spoke of the need to supervise or control the grants received by the civil society organizations through the international sources. Despite the criticism of the NGOs and the international agencies, it seems that the draft legislation is catching up with the words of the officials.

The draft law On Charity, Grants and Humanitarian Assistance has been developing within the Ministry of Finance since Fall 2001. The law, as the finance ministry officials explained to NGOs was primarily intended to regulate state grants and the grants to the state.

It was mentioned that absence of the practice of registering this assistance was creating problems for the customs department. However, NGO representatives were not satisfied with given explanation, as the wording of the draft law was general enough to apply to all grants, including those to NGOs.
The NGO working group was created to coordinate NGO activities towards this piece of legislation. The group is composed of chief executives of the Georgian Business Law Center, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, UN Association of Georgia, Georgian Centre for Strategic Research and Development, Foundation “Horizonti” and the Charity Foundation “Ortos”.

This group initiated consultations with the Ministry of Finance. It was agreed that the Regulation of the Ministry of Finance would suffice to set the rules for controlling state grants and the grants to the state agencies. Consequently, NGO and Ministry of Finance Representatives jointly drafted this Regulation.
NGO objection that no law was necessary to address the problems as quoted by the Finance Ministry officials stems from the fact that the Law on Grants already regulates the legal provisions regarding the NGO grants. It was enacted 7 years ago and is considered by the international experts as one of the most progressive ones in the FSU. No major substantive objections were ever voiced regarding the law from the state, civil, or international agencies. Hence the NGOs considered that the new law on grants, canceling the application of the existent law would unnecessarily complicate the legal environment, which may lead to confusion and misuse of powers by the state agencies.
Despite the consensus that was reached, in mid-January the NGOs have learnt that the President of Georgia personally requested from the Ministry of Finance to draft the law regarding [all] grants. The law was drafted in record times of some 2 days and is already re-directed to the President’s parliamentary secretary. According to the insider information it is to be reviewed by the Parliament in April as President’s legal initiative.
The new draft on Grants and Humanitarian Assistance is a hastily assembled document, which unites the provisions from the first draft of the Finance Ministry and the Regulation created through NGO/Finance Ministry consultations, plus some of the provisions of the Law on Grants currently in force. Hence, the law fails to correspond to the minimal requirements of clarity or structural coherence.
In addition, the law introduces the notion of “[state] control over utilization of the grants” (Article 1), which is unacceptable for the NGO community as it could be interpreted as a control over the contents and details of implementation of the activities sponsored by the grant.

NGO leaders state that NGOs are certainly responsible for diligent accounting for the grants received and reporting to the state authorities on taxes levied from these grants. However, the implementation details remain the contractual agreement between the donor and an implementer (NGO).

To the alarm of NGO leaders, the provision of the law provides no reference to the procedure of the “control over utilization” but refers the reader to the “relevant legislation.” As no such legislation presently exists, it is feared that the regulation procedures will be inflated through the numerous regulations, that would minimize efficiency of the donor-implementer relations and will be used selectively, as a political tool of pressure.
On February 5, 2002 the NGO working group the group invited other interested NGOs to discuss the state of affairs regarding the draft. It was agreed to elaborate common strategy of action to block passing of the draft through the parliament, address the President and international organizations with NGO concerns regarding the draft.

Civil Georgia will keep you updated on developments regarding the draft; you may address all questions and queries to Civil Georgia and they would be referred to appropriate members of the NGO working group.