New NGO Bill: EU envoys express concern

Source: The Daily Star

European countries’ envoys in Dhaka yesterday expressed concern over a provision in the foreign-funded NGO law which stipulates that making “inimical” and “derogatory” remarks on the constitution and constitutional bodies by such NGOs will be an offence. The provision can prevent the smooth and timely implementation of development projects and limit the freedom of expression, said the EU Delegation to Bangladesh in a press release.

Heads of Mission of the EU resident in Bangladesh, together with other important members of the donor community, have at numerous occasions pointed out these concerns during the drafting of the bill, it added. “They regret that none of their recommendations was reflected in the Bill adopted on 5 October, including those with the sole purpose to ensure the efficiency of development projects,” said the release. Meanwhile, President Abdul Hamid yesterday consented to the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill, according to a press release of the parliament secretariat. With his consent, the bill has become a law. The president gave his consent to the bill within five days into local and foreign NGOs’ call to him not to give assent to the bill.

In a press conference on Sunday, the NGOs said the controversial provision violated people’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech, thought and organisation. The NGOs also demanded the government discuss the bill with them again and make necessary amendments to the controversial provision and other “undemocratic, risky and impractical provisions”. The new provision empowered the NGO Affairs Bureau to cancel or withhold the registration of a foreign-funded NGO or ban its activities for committing the offence. The bill was aimed at empowering the NGO bureau to inspect, monitor and assess activities of NGOs. The original bill placed in parliament in September last year didn’t have the controversial provision. But a parliament watch report by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) and its executive director’s remarks on the role of the main opposition in the House in October last year irked lawmakers, who demanded punitive action against the TIB. In its report, the anti-graft watchdog pointed out a “low-level of participation” of MPs in lawmaking, question-answer sessions and discussions on important issues in the current parliament. The TIB also called the Jatiya Party “so-called opposition” in parliament and said it was rather working as “B-team of the government”.

Replying to a query, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman at that time termed the main opposition’s role “puppet show”. During the bill’s scrutiny, the parliamentary standing committee on the law ministry picked the issue and said it would propose inclusion of a provision in the bill for punishing the offenders for making derogatory remarks on the constitution and constitutional bodies. The president yesterday also consented to five other bills, including the Zila Parishad and the Supreme Court Judges (Leave, Pension and Privileges) laws.


In its press release, the European Union Delegation of Bangladesh said heads of Mission of the European Union resident in Bangladesh have noted that parliament has passed on October 5 the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Bill, 2016. The EU and its Member States is in terms of grants, the largest development partner of Bangladesh. They acknowledge the role played by local and international NGOs in Bangladesh’s development success story as well as the civil society’s continued support for human rights, it said. They recognise the need for regulating foreign development cooperation and welcome the intention to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism. They are, however, concerned over the provision.

Heads of Mission of the EU consider that since the Bill has not yet been made into a law, their concerns could be accommodated in a manner that would allow NGOs duly supported by foreign partners to continue playing a major role in the development of Bangladesh and their freedom of expression to be preserved, said the release. They issued the press release before the parliament secretariat disclosed the news on the president’s consent to the bill.

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