KARACHI: The provincial social welfare department has informed the Sindh High Court that the legislation about charities registration was enacted on the advice of the interior ministry to fulfil a condition of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to evolve a uniform mechanism of registration, regulation and administration of charities fund collection and utilisation.

It further submitted that such enactment has also been made in other provinces in the public interest to curb the practice of money laundering and utilisation of charitable funds for terror financing.

The secretary of the social welfare department in the comments filed in response to a set of petitions challenging the Sindh Charities Registration and Regulation Act, 2019 further submitted that the law was aimed to ensure transparency in the collection and utilisation of charitable funds of international and local NGOs.

It was submitted that the act was providing one-window facility to all the charities to resolve their legalities and ensure transparency of charitable funds provided from national and international donors.

Court will take up pleas against Sindh Charities Registration Act next month

The social welfare department in its reply stated that before the legislation in question, NGOs were registered under many laws and the mechanism of their monitoring and evaluation was not available properly and such originations were getting benefits through dual regulations.

It stated that the department was following the government policies in establishing the charity commission for registration and regulation of all NGOs and voluntary agencies for controlling and ensuring the charitable funds were not misused.

All the NGOs were asked through advertisements in leading newspapers to submit their performance and audit reports as well as election proceedings to the department and renew their registration from time to time, but such NGOs had neither submitted required documents nor contracted the department, it concluded.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice K. K. Agha directed its office to club all the identical petitions together and fix jointly for hearing. The matter was adjourned till Feb 2 as the lawyers for petitioners sought time to go through the comments.

However, the bench said the interim order passed earlier for not taking any adverse action against the petitioners would continue till the next date.

On a previous hearing, the additional secretary of economic affairs division (EAD) stated that the EAD had formulated the NGOs Policy 2013, which had been approved by the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet with an aim to ensure effectiveness of foreign aid flowing through NGOs and other non-profit organisations while keeping national interest intact.

It had further maintained that as per policy, documents of NGOs were circulated among the stakeholders including security agencies for clearance and on the basis of reports of the stakeholders the cases of NGOs were decided for signing of a memorandum of understanding.

The petitions were filed by the Indus Hospital & Health Network and several civil society organisations and NGOs against the act stating that it was ultra vires and in violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution and capable of being used as a tool for oppression and discrimination and was liable to be struck down.

Citing various federal and provincial authorities as respondents, the petitioners asked the court to declare that EAD, one of the respondents, had no statutory backing/locus standi and authority to frame, regulate and enact the rules of the NGOs Policy, 2013.

Piler renewal case

Meanwhile, the same bench came down hard on the ministry of interior over an inordinate delay in issuing a no-objection certificate to the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) and directed the interior secretary to make a decision and file a statement on Jan 20.

The bench said that the petitioner NGO had applied for renewal of its licence to the Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan in 2019, but the court was informed on the last hearing that SECP had sought clearance from the ministry of interior while the ministry in its comments stated that it had asked the agencies concerned for recommendations and waiting for their reply.

The bench expressed resentment over the ministry and said that despite the passage of two years, the recommendations had not been made and the ministry had again filed a stereo-type reply.

It said that this position was completely unacceptable as the interior secretary cannot keep waiting for two years to decide the matter and directed him to file a statement on the next hearing confirming whether the NOC had been granted or not.

The bench warned that the secretary would be summoned in person if he failed to make a decision in this regard till the next hearing.

The ministry in its reply stated that the petitioner was receiving foreign funding for its projects without a prior approval, which was against the NGO Policy 2013 issued by EAD and the NOC of security/intelligence agencies was a prerequisite for receiving such funding.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2022

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