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Sierra Leone News: Suspend new NGO Policy – NGOs and CSOs

The former government introduced a new policy amidst deterioration in its relationship with critical NGOs and civil society organizations over civil liberty issues. The APC government said the policy was necessary to ensure efficiency in service delivery for which donor funding is solicited.
The policy document requires 70% of all donor funds to NGOs reach the target beneficiaries. But, NGOs and civil society groups say the policy gives the government direct control over their operational activities and funds.
Alphonsus Gbanie, Executive Secretary of the Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN-SL), said, on Tuesday 15 May 2018, the policy imposes severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of association and expression including the right to form or join trade unions. He noted that provisions in the document inhibit the functional autonomy of NGOs/CSOs and, consequently, interferes with their structural operations.
The civil society community wants the new government to review it.
The Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone (HRDN-SL) called on the new Government to suspend the implementation of the NGO policy for further consultations with CSOs with a view to addressing the issues raised.
The Executive Secretary said they are dismayed that in December 2017 prior to the March 2018, the new NGO policy was surreptitiously adapted by the Government of Sierra Leone containing the same obnoxious provisions that would impose severe restrictions on the right to freedom of association and expression which are guaranteed in the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone and under international law.
He said HRDN-SL would like to point out that the rights to freedom of association and expression are critical for individuals and groups of individuals to contribute meaningfully to a democratic society. He added that Treaty obligations undertaken by the GoSL clearly require full respect for its people freedom of association and consequently free operation of civil society organizations in the country.
The Executive Secretary further lamented that the Network acknowledges the joint position statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association has raised a number of the above concerns with the Government on this policy to which the GoSL is yet to respond.
According to Gbanie, the avowed aim of the new NGO Policy is to provide clarity to NGO’s on coordination with Government, registration procedures and other issues. However, he further discussed that the new policy has some commendable sections, which include the ensuring maximum benefits to the people of Sierra Leone, national capacity building and accountability. However, Gbanie said a number of sections are inimical to the operations of civil society organizations and are inconsistent with international laws, norms and best practices.
He said the policy contains onerous registration and re-registration criteria and policies for NGO’s. These, he said, include eligibility criteria, registration and renewal of registration guidelines, project registration, funding, taxation and fees and staffing and human resource.
Gbanie concluded by asserting that the HRDN-SL subscribes to the view that the promotion of civil society is fundamental to ensure stability and economic growth and states should take all measures to promote civil society, including through legislation that complies with international human rights law.
The Chairperson for HRDN-SL, Solomon Sogbandi emphasized on the manner in which Parliament hastily adopted the new NGO policy and highlighted that a coalition which is headed by Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai is working towards the new NGO policy to be reviewed and assured that they as civil society organizations are not avert to transparency and accountability in terms of operations.
In her opening remarks, the Chair, Francess P. Alghali, who is also the Vice Chair of HRDN-SL said the network comprised coalition of civil society organizations and individuals to advocate for the protection of human rights defender and human rights in general. She pointed out that HRDN-SL has been in existence since 2011 in advocating for a policy that would guarantee the protection of human rights.
Efforts to reach the Office of the President proved futile.
SB/17/5/18
By Saidu Bah
Friday May 18, 2018.

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