Ethiopia NGO Bill: 10% “still poisonous for government”

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Ethiopia is planning a law to limit foreign funding for non-governmental organisations to less than 10 percent and lock out foreign organisations from funding pro-democracy activities.

The proposed law, which has been at the centre of a raging debate on whether parliament should move on to deprive the local economy extra earnings from foreign non-governmental organisations, is set to move to the amendment stage in parliament.

Ethiopia’s Justice Minister Berhan Hailu, who hosted local and foreign non-governmental organisations at a parliamentary-sanctioned debate on the proposed law on 25 December, said that the government would move to make it law.

The bill seeks to prohibit foreign organisations and local charities from engaging in activities which promote human and democratic rights, promoting ethnic equality, conflict resolution and reconciliation, child rights and the right of the disabled people.

The law does not provide avenues for direct government engagement in funding these key areas, which form the basis of most foreign-funded programmes across Africa.

The proposed law will also ban foreign NGOs from engaging in activities that seek to invest in the efficiency of the justice and law enforcement services.

Norway, Denmark and the Nordic states, seen among the world’s most generous donors, have recently concentrated their funding on justice reform, law and order.

These reforms specifically target the police and the court systems.

“It is our responsibility to consider ideas from all sides and provide parliament with adequate information to vote on,” Ethiopian Parliamentarian Asmelash Weldeselasie, who chairs the powerful Legal and Administrative Affairs Committee, told the local media.

Ethiopian opposition politicians have shown their disapproval of the Bill on Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies, designed to curb excessive foreign engagement in the NGO work across most of the sensitive areas, including democracy and justice.

Ethiopian NGOs have prevailed upon the country’s top political leaders, including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, to stop the legislation of the Bill, on which debate has raged in parliament over the past month.

Parliament has been sizing up the bill through its key legislative committees over the past month and on Christmas Day, an official working day for the Ethiopian society – which is waiting to celebrate the Christmas on 7 January – called for a public hearing on the bill.

The bill has been examined by the Parliamentary Legal and Administrative Affairs committee as well as the Foreign Security and Social Affairs Committee, and it is awaiting final steps of passage in the House before it finally becomes law.

Ethiopian opposition politicians have urged the government to seek other measures of controlling foreign non-governmental organisations, gaining popularity as the civil society, which have become more radical than traditional opposition political parties.

The opposition said Ethiopians do not have enough money to contribute to local charities and that limiting their source of funding would cripple the economy.

However, the Justice Ministry insisted at the public hearing that the 10 percent foreign financing window already granted is “still poisonous” for the government.

“The 10 percent funding from foreign sources is still poisonous. But we decided to handle all the consequences,” the Business Weekly, Fortune newspapers, quoted the Justice Minister saying in its latest edition on sale this week.

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