The New Draft Proclamation on Charities and Societies: A final blow to the Fledgling Ethiopian Civil Society?February 22nd, 2008 | EthioPolitics.com |
The new draft law, if adopted, marks the end of the already frail civil society, experts warn. According to experts, the draft law hinders civil society by:
Setting up an overly intrusive regulatory agency that can intervene at will in the activities of civil society, conduct arbitrary search and seizure of documents and property belongings civic organizations, assign, remove, and suspend officers of CSOs, manage or freeze CSO assets,
Imposing prohibitive registration requirements and granting the Agency the power to deny registration or order the dissolution of civic organization on grounds that are vaguely defined and unreasonable, such as, the protection of public interest and security or affiliation with CSO’s that have been deregistered previously.
Criminalizing public advocacy and advocacy on “contentious issues” by CSO’s Imposing unreasonable reporting requirements on Civil Societies, including a seven days advance notification requirement for holding a general assembly meeting.
In sum, the law seems intended to close most civil society organizations and turn the remaining into parastatals or mass organizations that are reminiscent of totalitarian political systems.
The following are the main highlights in some detail:
General: The draft law is modelled after the Singapore Societies act, but is more repressive than the Act in many ways. Singapore is criticized vehemently by human rights groups for shutting the space for civil society. The Act was taken from a colonial legislation which was enacted by the UK to eliminate Chinese secret societies in Singapore. Among the repressive provisions which were literally copied from the Act are:
Registration: Article 62 raises the required number for founding a CSO to 10, which was only 2 under the Civil Code enacted during the Emperor’s rule.
Article 79 (1) b-h: Mandatory Refusal of Application for Registration: directly copied from Article 4(2) of the Singapore law. Says the agency shall refuse registration on such dubious and sweeping grounds as ” where it is ‘likely’ to be used for unlawful purposes or purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order in Ethiopia”, “where it would be contrary to the national interest for the society to be registered”; where the CSO has such affiliation or connection with any organization outside Ethiopia as is considered by the Agency to be contrary to the national or public interest; where the CSO is founded by foreign nationals; or when the line ministry/sector administrator decides that the CSO should not be registered.
Discretionary Refusal of registration: (Article 79(3)- copied from Art. 4(3) of Singapore Act) The Agency may refuse to register when ‘it is satisfied that the proposed CSO is a branch or is affiliated to or connected with any CSO which was dissolved or denied registration; where it appears that its name is different from its purposes or is in the opinion of the agency undesirable, or when it appears that it is unlikely that it will get funds.
Discriminatory Registration/double standard: Article 80 states that CSOs that are deemed unlikely to pose concerns of law, peace and security will be registered immediately, while others will take longer time to get registered.
Dissolution: Article 112: A CSO dissolved if it has been used for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare or security of Ethiopia, if the Agency or sector admin determines that its continuation is contrary to the public or national interest, IF IT HAS WILLFULLY CONTRAVENED ANY PROVISION OF THIS PROCLAMATION, OR OF ANY REGULATIONS MADE HEREUNDER OR OF ANY OF THE RULES OF THE CSO; if the officers of the CSO had not exercised proper control and management, if it is used for purposes incompatible with the objects and rules of the CSO, if it couldn’t operate properly due to lack of officers or administration, or has not applied for renewal of licence or remains without license for 3 months!
Denial of Autonomy:
Article 111 – Incredible as these may sound, the Agency may remove or suspend an officer of a CSO where: the officer has not acted and will not declare his willingness or otherwise to act, is outside Ethiopia, or has been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty or moral turpitude. The AGENCY may appoint an officer for a CSO where: it has already removed the previous officer under Art. 111, where there are VACANCIES in the organization; where the Agency believes that it is necessary to increase the number of officers for proper administration An officer of a CSO dissolved by the Agency may notfor 3 years be employed as an officer of any society. (Art. 112(5)
A CSO should get permission from the Agency to open a branch (Art. 85, CHANGE ITS PLACE OF BUSINESS or amend its rules (ARt. 86). Agency might order the CSO to change its name (ARt. 87).
Financial Autonomy: The Agency appoints internal and external auditor for the CSO Art. 97(3), CSOs to do surprise report to the agency whenever it requires (Art. 98(2), Agency to have free and free access to the buildings, places, books, documents and other papers of the CSO, may inspect, copy or make extracts from such papers, and might take away the original documents, books or papers of the CSO (ARt. 102(4)
A CSO’s license will not to be renewed unless it utilizes 70% of its funds in 2yrs.
Advance notice, Violations of due process and the Right to Privacy:
A CSO shall inform the Agency the time and place of general assembly meeting a week ahead, (103(1), or the Agency might require CSO to inform it 7 days ahead time and place of the meeting of ANY ORGAN OF THE CSO, (103(2)-meaning no room for emergency meetings
The Agency, Line ministry or any authorized police officer can storm meetings or any place which he believes the CSO is conducting a meeting (Art. 104)
Art. 110 Upon investigation, the Agency might: remove or suspend an officer of CSO, establish a scheme for the administration of the CSO, restrict transactions the CSO may enter into, or payments which it might make, appoint additional officers it thinks fit, ORDER DEBTORS OF THE CSO NOT TO RETURN ITS PROPOERTY OR PAY THEIR DEBTS TO THE CSO.
(Art. 125(2) we may call it “THE DANIEL AND NETSANET CLAUSE” It is a criminal act to PUBLICLY SUPPORT POSITIONS IN POLITICALLY CONTENTIOUS MATTERS.
Draconian punishment: Failure to comply with most of the provisions entails 2yrs imprisonment or fine (in many cases not less than 5000) or both.
In addition, administering/membership in an unlawful/unregistered society entail severe punishment ARticle 80: 10,000 Birr or 5years imprisonment or both. Allowing a meeting of unregistered CSO in one’s place punishable with 5000 or 2yrs imprisonment(Art. 91), procuring money for unregistered CSO punishable by 5000 or 2yrs, printing or publishing info of unregistered cso punishable by 5000, 2yrs and confiscation of property. (Article93).
No right of appeal to court. No judicial review for deregistration or refusal to register, dissolution, suspension or dismissal of officers, etc. Ministers decision final in all cases, but in case of refusal to register, the Agency is free to set aside the decision of the Minister (art. 84(5).