Non-profit organizations (NPOs) play a vital role in South African society, providing support, funding and expertise in areas ranging from social security to education, from health to the environment.
Today, a group representing this key sector is calling for the removal of the NPO Amendment Billciting concerns about the impact of the changes proposed in the document on the functioning of NPOs.
The NPO Working Groupformed in late 2021 to help coordinate input from the NPO sector on changes to the bill, launched the petition calling for the withdrawal of the proposal towards the end of May 2022.
The prevailing sentiment among NPOs regarding the bill is “fear,” according to Nazeema Mohamed, chair of the NPO task force and executive director of Inyathelo.
“[NPOs] are very concerned that they will be deregistered for not being compliant,” she said. “We really don’t understand what the bill is supposed to do, so…especially with smaller nonprofits, there’s concern that they haven’t had the space and capacity to engage the bill. law.”
The Task Force has previously advocated a extension of time for comment on the bill, as the initial two-week period – ending October 31, 2021 – left little time for the NPO sector to respond. The extension was granted, with the new bid closing date set for June 10.
The petition proposes that the Department of Social Development (DSD) engage in consultation with stakeholders in the NPO sector to overhaul current legislation and develop a “coherent policy framework on NPOs to address the real challenges of the sector”.
“We as civil society want to support the government with a solution,” said Dee Moskoff, member of the NPO Working Group and co-founder of Social Causes.
There were consultations between the ministry and the NPO sector in the years leading up to the bill, according to Mohamed. She referred to two reports by the Human Sciences Research Council, commissioned by the National Development Agency, which examined requirements of regulatory frameworks and Capacity Building for the South African civil society sector, respectively.
“There was a lot of work and… a lot of consultation, but there was an inability to pull it all together,” Mohamed said.
“So what we have is [an NPO] Management that didn’t get the capacity it should have – didn’t get the funding it should have.
“They are actually drowned out with respect to the database and the number of recordings that should take place.”
Before the petition was launched, the task force contacted the DSD to withdraw the bill.
In a letter submitted jointly to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu on April 28, 2022, the group detailed their doubts about the proposal and asked for it to be recalled.
“While we understand and support the intention to reduce red tape, improve efficiency and create an enabling environment, in practice, however, the proposed changes are complex and often contradict these intentions,” the letter reads. .
The DSD in turn called for such recommendations to be submitted as comments on the draft law. However, Mohamed expressed concern that many NPOs do not have the ability to comment on the proposal, either because they are not aware of it or because they do not know how. engage in it.
“So the petition is an easier way to get their voices heard,” she said.
In a letter published on December 3, 2021, the NPO Task Force shared the DSD’s intention to amend the NPO Act in two stages.
The first, represented by the NPO Amendment Billwould involve largely administrative changes that would apply to less than 15% of the Act.
The second would be represented by a different bill accompanied by a policy document, allowing for more substantial changes to the law.
“We, as [NPO] sector felt that we wanted a phase. We said it would be best to do the policy review first, then consult on the policy, and then make changes,” Mohamed said.
“Why do one round of amendments, then do a policy review, then go back and do another round of amendments?”
She gave the example of a proposal in the NPO Amendment Bill which would see the NPO Directorate renamed the Office of the Registrar. Although the working group is not against the change, they would like it to be accompanied by substantive amendments that would improve the capacity of the organization.
“We always wanted [the directorate] to be an independent body, separate from… government departments,” explained Ann Bown, independent consultant for the NPO Working Group.
“The focus should be on all non-profit organizations – education, sports, arts, culture, whatever, and it’s such a broad area…so ideally this regulator should become completely independent of the ‘one of the ministries.’
The change in the NPO Amendment Bill, however, is just a matter of nomenclature, Mohamed said. “We only see a name change – we don’t see the substance.”
Another problematic change proposed in the bill is the mandatory registration requirement for foreign NPOs, according to William Bird, member of the NPO Working Group and director of Media monitoring in Africa.
“In the bill, the way it’s framed, they don’t define what they mean by a foreign entity,” Bird said.
“So it’s really poorly designed and drafted, and as soon as you have that, it means the possibility of abuse is just huge.”
The purpose of the mandatory registration requirement – to better prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorist organizations through NPOs – will not be achieved, he said.
Registration alone will not provide the government with the information it needs to identify and track illicit activity.
Moreover, such a requirement is unconstitutional, according to a Media Monitoring Africa memo dated April 13, 2022.
International human rights law favors a notification procedure rather than a prior authorization procedure when it comes to creating NPOs and legal persons. Legal frameworks that require registration are likely to violate the right to freedom of association.
Other issues with the NPO Amendment Bill identified in the NPO Task Force petition include:
- The poor drafting of the bill, which leaves it open to interpretation;
- The lack of clear alignment between the declared intentions of the DSD and the actual amendments;
- The new structure proposed for the boards of directors of NPOs, which requires additional deputies; and
- The proposed cleaning of the NPO database. Little clarity was provided as to the conditions under which organizations would be delisted.
Maverick Citizen contacted the DSD regarding the NPO Task Force petition. Lumka Oliphant, spokeswoman for the department, said: “In a democratic country like ours, the process of any legislative drafting or change has an element of publication in order to take into account public comments.
“This process also affects the NPO Amendment Bill, where South Africans have the opportunity to submit their views on the proposed amendment in writing… Public comments are open until June 9, 2022, when all points views of interested parties will be consolidated and addressed. ”
Oliphant did not respond to questions about the specific concerns raised in the petition. SM/MC