Activist slams rejig of civil society law

Activist slams rejig of civil society law

A leading civil rights activist has slammed the cabinet-approved version of a law aimed to promote transparency of civil society organisations, saying the content has been revised without public input.

Sappasit Khumprapan, chairman of the Centre for the Protection of Children's Rights Foundation, said the bill on promotion and development of civil society organisations contains the word "non-profit" while the original version does not.

Mr Sappasit, also chairman of a subcommittee drafting the bill, said the word should be dropped from the bill before it is forwarded to the House of Representatives for scrutiny otherwise he will challenge it in the Constitutional Court.

He said the law is "extremely rightist" and said it should be improved.

A source close to the cabinet said the bill has received backing from several state agencies including the National Intelligence Agency, the Office of Public Sector Development Commission, the National Health Commission Office, and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation. The source said Social Development and Human Security Minister Chuti Krairiksh had argued for the bill.

The minister said the bill will provide oversight of NGOs and their spending especially those who receive financial support from overseas. Mr Chuti also expressed concerns about the motive of some of these NGOs who accuse Thai authorities of violating human rights and use these claims to seek funds, the source said.

To ensure good governance, the proposed law requires civil society organisations to register as non-profit bodies with the Interior Ministry's Department of Provincial Administration, declare their sources of funds spent each year, file annual income taxes, and disclose their audited accounts.

According to the source, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had instructed the government's PR team to be careful when discussing the law to avoid misunderstanding.

Rachada Dhnadirek, deputy government spokeswoman, said the law is intended to ramp up oversight of NGOs. Despite a large number of non-government organisations in the country, only 87 have registered.

"The draft law is intended to promote transparency and accountability, not to stifle their activities," she said.

She said the Council of State has studied the law in several countries and found they are all designed to promote transparency and good governance of these organisations.

The proposed law will be put up for public hearings and input will be forwarded to the Council of State for consideration. Ms Rachada said if these non-profit organisations receive funds from non-Thai citizens or organisations, they can spend the money only on activities allowed by the law.

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