KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 4 ― A ban on foreign funding for civil society groups deemed “political” will eventually lead to direct interference by the government in their daily operations, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have claimed.
The civil society groups polled by Malay Mail Online also explained they have no problems with revealing the sources of their funding, pointing out that the information is publicly available as they are officially registered under the Registrar of Societies (RoS).
“My fear is that, does this mean the government from now onwards is going to interfere in the operation and independent of NGOs, including those who are non-political?” local HIV and Aids advocacy group PT Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer Raymond Tai told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
“It’s not a secret, it’s all in our audited report, we have been practising transparency for a long time, so anyone is welcome to look at our account which is published on our website,” Tai added.
When asked about PT Foundation’s funding, Tai said it receives funding from “corporations, private donors, institutional funders, both local and abroad”.
Federal minister Datuk Paul Low had told Malay Mail Online that civil society groups with “political” agendas or are clearly aligned to political parties should not be allowed to receive foreign funding.
The minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who heads the National Consultative Committee on Political Financing, said laws should also be introduced or amended to require all NGOs to disclose their sources of funding.
Tai said Low’s suggestion to take action against some NGOs was itself “political”, and called on the government to practice what it preached if it truly believed in transparency.
Another advocacy group, the Malaysian Aids Council (MAC) also said that revealing the sources of their funding has never been a problem.
MAC Executive Director Dr Ilias Adam Yee said since the council was registered under the RoS, they were required to submit audited financial accounts every year.
“And inside that, it already has sources of funding,” he told Malay Mail Online, referring to the audited account.
“It’s quite standard to declare our sources of funding and how we spend it, [so] I don’t see where the comments would be out of the usual practice.”
He said it was very important for MAC to be open and transparent as they received funds from multiple donors and granters, as well as from Geneva-based The Global Fund, which specifically provided funds for HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria diseases research.
“For HIV in Malaysia, we receive quite a substantial amount from the Global Fund.
“And they have oversight mechanisms, every country has its own country coordinating mechanism that will monitor recipients, and we will do our work as what was set in the proposal,” he said adding that international funders set stringent requirements that needed to be met.
Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, president of the National Human Rights Society, or Hakam, said that Low's proposal will effectively shut down NGOs who do not agree with the ruling government and its policies.
“How can the minister who is formerly from Transparency International and who knows that NGOs do not get funding from the government say this?
“If he feels that way then he must simultaneously propose funding from the government for projects undertaken by NGOs,” she told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
Low's remarks were in response to Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said's call for the Political Donations and Expenditure Act (PDEA) to be extended to civil society groups, following claims that US billionaire George Soros funded local organisations to help depose the government.
The minister in the Prime Minister's Department said the leaked minutes, purportedly from a meeting of Soros' Open Society Foundations (OSF), made it necessary to examine funding for groups beyond political parties. Police are investigating the authenticity of the minutes.
Azalina added that the allegations that a foreign entity may have financed efforts to oust the ruling government here merited serious investigation.
The OSF yesterday confirmed that it provides Malaysian NGOS with approximately US$700,000 (RM2.9 million) annually, but denied that the money was used to help overthrow the Malaysian government.
The PDEA was proposed by a bipartisan panel on political funding that also recommended oversight on contributions to political parties and the mandatory identification of donors who contribute more than RM3,000.
It also recommended banning foreign donors, confiscating money from unknown sources, and delimiting campaign spending.