Voluntary Organisations operating in Malta have been directed not to abide by new regulations governing fundraising activities by a new action group launched to oppose the new rules.
The Voluntary Action Group is composed of representatives from the Richmond Foundation, Repubblika, Din l-Art Helwa, SPCA Gozo and Socjeta Muzikali San Guzepp AD 1889.
Addressing a press conference marking its launch, the new action group advised voluntary organisations operating in Malta not to abide by the new regulations, including applying for any permit in order to carry out fundraising activities.
“Do not apply for any permits and continue with collections in the way you have always done,” Repubblika president Robert Aquilina said. He added that should any organisation be faced with consequences, the action group would be there to defend their rights.
The action group is calling for legal notices to be revoked immediately given that they were the result of a non-transparent process and did not follow a proper consultation process with the sector.
The suspension of the regulations was not enough, the group said, adding that it would be formally writing to the Council of Europe should their demands not be met.
Stephanie Dimech Sant from the Richmond Foundation said the group was not against ensuring some form of regulation of the sector, provided that these were legitimate and not already dealt with through other legislation.
Dimech Sant stressed that one’s right to associate with a group of persons or support a particular cause, including through monetary means, was a fundamental right, stressing that the new regulations – introduced by stealth last September – went against that right.
A large number of voluntary organisations have voiced their concerns about the new regulations, with some 80 NGOs and 90 band clubs publicly calling for them to be scrapped.
Earlier this week, the Council for Voluntary Organisations called on the Office of the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations to re-drafted the rules.
The Council for Voluntary Organisations is a distinct legal personality to the Commissioner’s office and is made of one member appointed by the minister to represent the government, four members appointed by the minister from the voluntary sector, and six members elected directly by the voluntary sector.
Dimech Sant said the new Voluntary Action Group would be engaging with the council to bring forward a united message against these regulations.
Alex Torpiano from Din l-Art Helwa noted there were a number of questions about the necessity and indeed the legality of the new regulations, which he said went against the spirit of the law regulating the voluntary sector.
He noted that one of the provisions of the new regulations gave the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations the power to prohibit the fundraising by an organisation if they believed the aim of the collection not to be a social or philanthropic one, irrespective of whether or not this was in line with the organisation’s statute. Any voluntary organisation’s statue would have been approved by the Office of the Commissioner prior to it being registered with the office.
Torpiano noted that the regulations did not allow for this to be challenged while questioning why voluntary organisations were having requirements placed on them that would see them scrutinised more than businesses.
“Why are we doubting the integrity of the voluntary sector… How many volunteers will have to give up as a result of these requirements?”
He said there were fears that whoever drew up the regulations had no idea how the sector operated.
Aquilina recalled how in 2007 the voluntary sector had been given “a good structure” following the introduction of the relevant legislation. This, he said, had seen many organisations register with the Commissioner’s Office over the years.
These new regulations, he said, were now threatening this by imposing disproportionate obstacles that many entities would find it difficult to adhere to. He stressed that the manner in which the regulations had been introduced was shocking, adding that the action group felt it had a moral obligation to protect the sector for the good of society.
Furthermore, he said it was worrying that the Office of the Commissioner had recently employed “a number of individuals whose aim was not to help the sector, but to police it and to find problems that were not there when the organisations were registered”.
“This is not happening because the laws changed, but because the attitude has changed,” Aquilina said.
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