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Volha Smalianka: A new decree on foreign donations won’t improve the state of NGOs

07.03.2016  |  Society   |  Piotr Kuchta,  EuroBelarus
Volha Smalianka: A new decree on foreign donations won’t improve the state of NGOs

On March 4 a Decree No.5 "On foreign donations" will come into force, which, according to the head of Lawtrend, doesn’t solve the old problems in relation to obtaining and registering these donations.

The Decree of the President No.5 “On foreign donations" dated August 31, 2015 establishes a new procedure for registration of foreign donations and their usage.

What changes for NGOs and does anything change at all? Volha Smalianka, the head of the Centre for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend” gives the answer to that question in the interview with the EuroBelarus Information Service.

"The entry of this law into force is very important for NGOs and their target groups, that is, direct beneficiaries of these donations. NGOs are direct service providers in the social, environmental, educational, cultural, and other areas that are important to the society, as well as the recipients of goods that they distribute among the needy, - Volha Smalianka says. – A lot of NGOs implement projects in these spheres thanks to foreign donations."

The expert emphasizes that NGOs "have been waiting for the change of legislation on foreign donations, since starting from 2001 the procedure of getting such donations has been extremely difficult, also because of the existing system of donations’ registration, narrow list of reasons for getting the donations, and so on." "However, after analyzing of the provisions of the Decree, we can draw a conclusion that the new law makes it easier to get donations for the government agencies and pro-government organizations that are actively created now; but it doesn’t simplify this process for other NGOs", - Volha Smalianka says.

According to her, even though the Decree comes into force on March 4, in fact, the Department of Humanitarian Affairs Office of the President started using it since December 2015. "And judging from practice, the new legislation has many defects and problems. For example, the Decree states that in order to exempt the donation from taxes an opinion of the competent public authority issued within 5 working days is required. However, practice showed that the competent public authorities haven’t been prepared to issue these opinions within such deadline and, in fact, haven’t been ready to take responsibility and intercede for donations’ exemption from taxes. In result, a vicious circle occurs: the public authorities don’t issue the opinion, the Department doesn’t want to register donations without the opinion, and without registration the donations cannot be used. It is extremely difficult for the NGOs to operate in such conditions, and the society loses the usefulness and benefits that NGOs can bring by implementing their projects,"- said the head of the Centre for Legal Transformation.

For government agencies, notes Volha Smalianka, there are other ways to register donations. The Decree contains such notion as, for example, humanitarian programs, and these humanitarian programs can be carried out either directly by government agencies or together with government agencies.

"While elaborating the draft law, the Department has made a seemingly progressive step: it has announced the collection of public proposals aimed at improving the legislation on foreign donations. After that NGOs sent both collective and individual proposals, but they were almost not used, as we see from the adopted Decree. Yes, we should give the authorities their due, as certain technical aspects were adopted; however, the system of registration of foreign donations itself hasn’t changed at all. Instead, this innovation with getting opinions has appeared. No simplification happened; on the contrary, it became even more difficult. The new legislation should have removed the defects and issues that previously appeared; but, unfortunately, even more questions appeared,"- Volha Smalianka sums up.

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