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Repubblika Writes To Council For Voluntary Organisations Over New Funding Rules It Says Undermine Free Expression

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Repubblika has written to the Council For Voluntary Organisations over new fundraising regulations which have been imposed on voluntary organisations (VO) and which the civil society group says “suffocate fundamental freedoms of law-abiding citizens”. 

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.  

The new regulations, enacted last September as part of legal reforms intended for Malta to avoid grey-listing by Moneyval and impose a series of new restrictions on voluntary organisations’ fundraising activities. 

Before they were updated, the regulations required voluntary organisations wishing to raise funds to register with the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations in order to do so. 

Under the new regulations, this is no longer enough. Voluntary organisations looking to carry out fundraising must now apply for permission before each occasion when fundraising will take place. 

They must also collect containers to be able to do so from the Commissioner’s office and they can only be opened and counted by a public officer within the Office of the Commissioner. A full list of the new regulations can be found here

Repubblika has said that while it understands the need for safeguards to ensure that voluntary organisations aren’t used as vehicles for financial crime, the new regulations make it virtually impossible for voluntary organisations to carry out fundraising. 

In a memorandum sent to the council this week, Repubblika stated that the new regulations fail to “realistically contribute to a clampdown on money laundering and financial crime”, adding that instead they “suffocate the fundamental freedoms of law-abiding citizens, preventing them from associating or from freely expressing their views”.

The memorandum includes an analysis of the new regulations, including a “critical assessment of their reasonable practicality” and the threats they present to “non-negotiable” freedoms. 

Repubblika is therefore recommending that the regulations be withdrawn and redrafted, but only after the Commissioner and competent authorities, such as the FIAU and the Police Department are consulted, in order for a list of regulations to be drawn up that actually address “the legitimate law-enforcement concerns”. 

“It is clear that the changes to legislation that have an impact on voluntary organisations must be adopted only after appropriate and open consultation with them,” Repubblika said. 

Furthermore, it said that organisations should be informed well ahead of the date of coming into force of any new obligations with appropriate consideration given to the fact that VOs have, by definition, limited resources, both in terms of time and staffing. 

Finally, Repubblika also recommended that the authorities consider providing tax incentives or breaks for professionals providing pro-bono services to registered voluntary organisations. 

Similarly, the civil society group suggested that the government should recognise donations to voluntary organisations declared in tax returns and reward them with similar tax breaks and incentives.

What do you make of these new regulations?

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