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Civil Society Organization (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2021

Date Introduced: 05 August 2021
Date Passed: 05 August 2021
Type: Private Bill
Status: First Reading

Civil Society Organization (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2021

Comments on Bill

Overall comments/ feedback:

International agencies studying Bhutan’s civil society situation describes Bhutan as an “obstructed” civic space (according to CIVICUs). Some of these proposed amendments will pull down Bhutan’s ranking when in fact, CSOs are doing well and have contributed much to the society, community and country.

It would be best to keep the Act simple and straightforward and to update the rules when required. Eleven years after the introduction of registration of CSOs, Bhutan has gained the experience to better regulate and manage ourselves without tightening the reins of control and governance.

In past CSO discussions with the Parliament and with the Foreign Relations committee, it was agreed that it may be easier to change the rules. If the Act is to be updated, it sould reflect a lighter touch as we now have more experience of governing CSOs.
Section 9: Proposal for MoHCA secretary to chair the CSOA. Having a government Secretary as chair connotes government control of CSOs and a tightening of civic space.

• Of the 7 members—it’s a good idea to have a representative each from Foreign Affairs Ministry and GNHC. Recommend giving CSOs additional representation on the board – from the current 2, increase to 3 CSO reps. Also to consider adding 1 member from the public/private sector – a retired or an active citizen.

Even with these additional representations, there would still be 4 govt representatives on the proposed board assuming that the Secretary is a direct recruit. This inclusion of 2 to 3 more representatives from civil society will promote self-regulation that is an underlying value of civic space. This will help strengthen a system of self-governance that will deepen Bhutan’s democratic participation.

Section 16: Endowment Fund Limit

What is the rationale for an endowment fund limit? Bhutan has set a role model with endowment funds – in terms of trust funds and endowments for some CSOs.

All CSOs are required to be audited annually, and the Act and rules provide for closure processes , transparency etc. With good financial systems in place, the Authority should not cap a limit to endowment funds as this is one way for CSOs to ensure regular support for it’s work and operations.

Bhutan has the opportunity of getting international agencies to match government support to endow funds for the long-term sustainability of work to close the gaps and serve the greater good of society.

Section 21: When the Executive Director of the CSOA is hired by the civil service and follows civil service rules, he/she is removed from the spirit of civil society itself. A Director who understands the nature and demands of civil society – including it’s financing and employment conditions – would make a more empathetic and therefore, better ‘head’ of the CSOA secretariat. Experience of civil service is an important basic condition for the leadership position in the CSO Authority. Many global role models in civil society practise self-regulation and self-governance. In the Philippines, for example, a non-profit organisation is responsible for registration of non-profits.

Section 36: A foreign CSO shall be removed from the register of accreditation… if it violates… other laws in force.

• Change the word “foreign” with International CSO.

• INGOs in Bhutan are still not registered with the CSOA although it is required by the 2007 Act. They continue to extend MoUs with either the GNHC or the Foreign Ministry. This must be addressed if the inclusion of this new clause is to make sense.

Section 92: Accounting and reporting system. “The CSOs shall establish an accounting system in accordance to the Financial rules and regulations of the RGoB. “

This is contrary to the best practises of CSOs everywhere. CSOs are not government and cannot follow the same financial rules and regulations. As long as professional audits are done and accounts are scrutinised, CSOs ought to follow international best practices in CSO accounting and reporting. Changing this section would again be regarded as an attempt to restrict civic space in Bhutan.

Section 96: Annual Audit to follow the Audit Act of Bhutan. The CSOA has introduced strict financial rules for compliance and this is working well. Has the Audit Act been revised to take in CSO needs and good practices? Or was it developed largely to scrutinise government and corporate agencies?

Section 124: Rule making power…

Additional clause 2 is very detailed and time specific. This can go to the rules for CSOs.
Thanks. Pl email me if you need my contact.
Best regards,
Pek
By pek dorji, 08/10/2021 02:21:54
Board Composition:
This act being specifically for CSOs, I personally feel that the representative in the board to be balanced. Following are my suggestion:
Executive representatives from:
1. One from MoHCA
2. One from MoFA
3. One from GNHC
4. Three representatives from CSO’s
5. One from Private sector

Thank you.
By Tashi Namgay, 09/09/2021 10:52:26

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