Tue, Feb 07, 2017 - Page 3 News List

NGO draft bill is cosmetic: groups

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

Members of civic groups demonstrate outside the Ministry of the Interior yesterday.

Photo: Peter Lo, Taipei Times

The Ministry of the Interior’s proposed bills to regulate the establishment of non-governmental organizations (NGO) are cosmetic, civic groups said yesterday, protesting the ministry’s refusal to hold open hearings.

More than a dozen people from the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, Taiwan Democracy Watch and several other groups protested outside the ministry’s building in Taipei, shouting slogans calling on the ministry to open up the bill drafting process and restore the right to freedom of association.

The ministry held a meeting yesterday, when it announced its plans to abolish the Civil Associations Act (人民團體法) to make way for separate laws to regulate NGOs, professional associations and political parties.

Only 12 NGOs were invited to the meeting, to the chagrin of other civic groups.

“There are numerous groups which have been suffering from the current law, so it is good that they are considering changes and asking for opinions, but we are bewildered as to why only groups graded as ‘excellent’ were invited,” Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary-general Chiu E-ling (邱伊翎) said, adding that her group was rejected on grounds that a ministry review had not given it an “excellent” grade.

“Given that this law is supposed to apply to all groups, why are they not willing to listen to groups that have been silenced?” she asked.

Being registered by the ministry is crucial to civic groups because it paves the way for court designation as a legal person, allowing them to engage in open fundraising activities, she said.

The protesters also criticized the proposed bill for retaining the ministry’s right to reject applications, despite claims that the current permit system would be abolished.

“The bill still imposes a lot of restrictions on freedom of association, particularly by maintaining the ministry’s power to deny resignations and order an association to disperse. What is supposed to counteract or constrain the ministry?” Taiwan Association for Human Rights deputy chairman Weng Kuo-yan (翁國彥) said, adding that the proposed changes amounted to “walking in place.”

“Even though they are changing the name of the process for approval to application-based registration, the reality is that it is still a review-based permit system,” Taiwan Democracy Watch director Tu Yu-yin (涂予尹) said.

The amendment would simplify and streamline the application process to allow civic groups more freedom, the ministry’s cooperative and civil association preparatory office head Chen Yung-fu (陳永福) said, adding that allowing automatic registration is impractical.

“The issue is that the 46th Article of the Civil Code requires associations to receive approval from a ministry before they can become legal persons,” he said.

The ministry also sought to retain its power to deny applications so that it could ban organizations with illegal purposes, he said.

“Not inviting the protesting groups was probably an oversight on our part,” he said, adding that attendance had been restricted because of space limitation and the number of civic organizations.

“We ended up preparing seats for them, but unfortunately they were not willing to come in,” he said.

“We are not here to have the ministry let us in because we made a fuss — we are here because we believe it should hold another hearing open to all groups,” Chiu said.

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