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Sierra Leone News: NGOs consult for a review of Policy

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) gathered in a consultative meeting to discuss the 2009 NGO Policy, which they see as a threat to their existence. They said they need their space to operate that is devoid of threats or intimidation from government. The regional consultative meeting with Western Area heads of NGOs was organised by Society for Democratic Initiatives with support from OSIWA on the theme, “the threat to civil space and the new draft NGO Policy” held at the Civil Service Training College on Friday 2 November 2018. In his statement, Charles Lahai, Africa Regional Director from Peace Africa Alliance Consulting Educating and Training (PAACET), said the current NGO policy has issues around entrance legitimacy, which is kind of questionable, because it’s the government who tells you how to get into the NGO world. The Policy, he said, stipulates that before anyone establishes an organization, it must have at least a five-person team, which has tax implications. The Policy, Lahai said, places a huge administrative burden on NGOs as it places a lot of restrictions on people. Lahai noted the meeting should bring out critical issues that they will use to dialogue with government for a review. “Then we will be able to ensure that fundamental human rights are protected,” he said. In as much as the NGOs are saying the policy has negative impacts, Human Rights Defenders Network, Alphonsus B.M. Gbanie, reminded his colleagues that there are good aspects within the NGO Policy, which ensures that there is maximum benefit for Sierra Leonean population. Another good side is the national capacity building and the aspect of accountability. Section 2.4.1 requires at least 70% of all donor funds to any NGO are directed to the beneficiaries while the remaining 30% should be for administrative costs of the NGO. They are recommending that the section be removed, however recognizing that the worthwhile goal, NGOs could be requested to voluntarily work towards this goal as far as possible. Gbanie went on to say that the Policy protected SLANGO as an institution by making it mandatory for all NGOs to register with them, which in effect has already interfered with the right of freedom of association and assembly. He disclosed that even though the NGOs participated in the entire process and there was an open space for the civil society to participate, the participation was questioned by all. “The purpose and intent for NGOs to participate in the NGO Policy was not genuine from the government, because our views in the consultation process was not reflected in the final draft of the NGO Policy,” he said. The Executive Director of SDI, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, said globally the space is shrinking as governments are now trying to clamp on civil society. “There will be no democracy without civil society there will be no civil society without freedom of speech. Our business is to criticize, that is why we pay taxes; that is why we are citizens and that is why we elect them into offices,” he said. As civil society, Saffa said, they find it difficult to create their own space as they don’t want to stand up for their own rights. “But if the government wants to shrink our own space in the blatant manner in which it has been done, how many other people are going to suffer? So I call on all of you to look at this from a broader aspect,” he said. The issue of civil society law is not just the issue of saying the NGO policy is bad, but that they have to juxtapose it with international principles and the Constitution. “We have done consultations and we are doing them again. Our Members of Parliament and government must understand that it is not their business to clampdown on civil society. This is a policy it is not a law,” said Saffa.

ZJ/3/11/18

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Monday November 05, 2018.

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