MPs must follow Treasury in respecting civil society independence – IRR

Organisation says civil society contributed greatly to this victory for constitutional democracy

MPs must follow National Treasury in respecting civil society independence

26 October 2022

MPs serving on Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance should follow the National Treasury’s lead and abandon key clauses in the General Laws (Anti-Money Laundering and Combating of Terrorism Financing) Amendment Bill which stand to harm the independence of non-profit organisations.

So says the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), noting that the welcome decision by the Treasury to abandon clauses 8 through 14 of the Bill coincides with recommendations in the Institute’s own submission on the draft legislation. Submissions closed yesterday.

In its original form, the Bill would make it compulsory for non-profit organisations (NPOs) to register with the government and be subjected to various potentially intrusive government regulations. This would be in sharp contrast to the 1997 Nonprofit Organisations Act, which, after strenuous efforts by the IRR and other organisations to defend the independence of civil society in the run-up to its adoption, solidified the principle that NPOs need not be registered with government or be subjected to specific regulation.

While the Treasury will now retain this principle for NPOs that only operate domestically, the IRR still cautions against proceeding with a registration requirement for NPOs that are involved in foreign funding or foreign activities.

As with any other natural and legal person in South Africa, NPOs – whether they operate only domestically or also have foreign interests – have always been and remain bound by laws of general application, including those against money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.

In the IRR’s submission on the Bill, Deputy Head of Policy Research Martin van Staden writes: “Corruption and transparency watchdogs – NPOs – have played a crucial role since the dawn of constitutional democracy in South Africa because they are not perceived, or required, to be subject to political oversight or control. It is government that must be subject to independent civil society oversight, not the other way around.”

On 10 October, the IRR in a letter requested that the Standing Committee extend the deadline for public comment on the Bill. This request was granted, allowing the public to study the potential harms the legislative proposal could entail for civil society.

Welcoming the Treasury’s abandonment of the NPO clauses in the Bill, Van Staden added:

“Civil society opposition against the harmful implications of this Bill contributed greatly to this victory for constitutional democracy. This underscores the importance of vocal opposition to bad policies in public discourse. We trust the Standing Committee will respect National Treasury’s wish to abandon the draconian provisions relating to NPOs and remove them from the final draft of the Bill.”

The IRR’s submission on the Bill may be accessed here.

Issued by Martin van Staden, Deputy Head of Policy Research, 26 October 2022