19 December 2022
By Rehan Piracha
LAHORE: The Joint Action Committee, an alliance of over 30 reputed NGOs, will challenge the newly-issued NGOs policy in the Islamabad High Court, its convener Mohammad Tahseen told Voicepk.net.
Non-government organisations (NGOs) receiving foreign funding can face immediate termination of their Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the Ministry of Economic Affairs on the withdrawal of security clearance, activities against national security, and incitement of religious intolerance, ethnic violence or hatred, according to a policy approved by the federal cabinet.
According to a notification issued by the Ministry of Economic Affair on its website, the “Policy for Local NGOs/NPOs Receiving Foreign Contributions-2022” was approved by the federal cabinet on November 11.
The policy has been promulgated to regulate and enhance the effectiveness of foreign funding being received, availed and utilised by NGOs and non-profit organisations (NPOs) registered in Pakistan.
The MoU shall be terminated if the NGO/NPO receiving foreign contribution such as violates any or all provisions of this policy, engages in activities having implications for national security, promotes religious intolerance, ethnic violence or hatred, involves itself in money laundering, terror financing/activities, withdrawal of security clearance by a relevant agency, reasons to be intimated to concerned, undertakes any project in restricted and prohibited areas without permission and involves itself in the concealment of facts, submission of false information, forgery, and tampering.
Reacting to the NGOs policy, Mohammad Tahseen, convener of the Joint Action Committee, an alliance of over 30 reputed NGOs, expressed dismay that the federal government finalised the NGOs policy without including their suggestions and objections submitted by the JAC. “The NGOs policy violates fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution,” Tahseen told Voicepk.net.
Surprisingly, he said, the federal government chose to bring another policy to regulate foreign-funded NGOs after the Sindh High Court had declared the previous policy of no legal effect in a judgment in January.
According to the SHC judgment, the Ministry of Economic Affairs ‘ was not vested with such powers nor in law was empowered/competent to regulate or curb the Petitioner’s operations through the Policy, which has no constitutional strength or legislative mandate or legal sanctity or backing of enabling Jaw, as such, does not carry any weight’.
Tahseen said the NGOs policy was not backed by any legislation and constituted a violation of the fundamental right of freedom of association. He said the JAC opposed the conditions of security clearance and activities against national security for termination of the MOU as formulated in the policy. “These conditions lend themselves to arbitrary and subjective assessments by unnamed agencies and can be used to deny citizens the right to defend human rights, uphold the constitution including by critiquing laws that violate the Constitution, accepted human rights standards,” the JAC said in its submission.
Similarly, the JAC suggested that the federal government should regularly publish and make a publicly available list of prohibited places to inform NGOs undertaking any project in restricted and prohibited areas. The NGOs face termination of their MOU if they work in a prohibited area without permission under the new policy.
Alia Malik, a senior associate of AGHS Legal Aid Cell, said the NGOs policy failed to list certain essential areas in which some NGOs were operating in the country. “AGHS provides free legal assistance to women, children, and marginalised minorities but the scope of NGOs mentioned in the policy excluded this aspect,” she told Voicepk.net.
Interestingly, the policy mentioned that the NGOs do not employ any person(s) or in any capacity make links with the person(s) who are fugitives, convicts or absconders,s or wanted by law enforcement agencies, she added. “This section undermines the working of an NGO providing legal assistance to persons accused in a court or wanted by law enforcement agencies in civil and criminal cases,” she pointed out.
Alia Malik said the bureaucratic red tape in the shape of submissions of financial reports and work plans would hinder the working of NGOs working on humanitarian causes. “Officials in the Ministry of Economic Affairs have no understanding of how NGOs carry out their work and operations,” she said.
According to Tahseen, the JAC had recommended that the condition of the MOU should be replaced with a simple no-objection certificate (NoC) from the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
“Suspension of NoC shall only be on the basis of serious financial irregularities, misreporting, deficiencies in the financial records, or financial fraud or NGO/NPO is consistently ignoring the concerns from Economic Affairs Division (EAD). In such case, EAD can terminate the NoC after giving it due opportunity of appeal and to be heard. Given that such penalty shall be time bound and if no decision is given within 60 days (or any other time may be specified) either party shall assume the case is decided,” the JAC stated in its submission to the government over the NGOs policy. Tahseen said the JAC would be challenging the new NGOs policy in the Islamabad High Court. He said the high courts in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had issued a stay order against the previous policy on the petitions by several NGOs there.