Mandatory NPO registrations opens door for “govt interference and politicisation” – HSF

Written on 11/02/2022
Michael Appel

The Helen Suzman Foundation is concerned by two pieces of legislation the government is aiming to push through as it seeks to comply with recommendations of the FATF to avoid greylisting.

The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) is concerned by two pieces of legislation the government is aiming to push through as it seeks to comply with recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to avoid greylisting. The HSF has made submissions to Parliament‘s Standing Committee on Finance, taking issue with aspects of both the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Terrorism Financing Amendment Bill, as well as the Draft Non-Profit Organisation Amendment Bill. In an interview with BizNews correspondent Michael Appel, director of the HSF, Nicole Fritz, says: “We’re concerned for freedom of civil society, NPOs generally, and we would point to the fact that the FATF itself maintains that any reforms or amendments undertaken by governments should be consistent with international law obligations, and this requirement of mandatory registration is concerning in that it provides for the potential of government interference, [and] politicisation.” – Michael Appel

Excerpts from interview with HSF director Nicole Fritz

Nicole Fritz on how the proposed amendments would stifle the work of NPOs

We are concerned for the impact on the HSF, but we are concerned for freedom of civil society, non-profit organisations generally. We would point to the fact that the Financial Action Task Force itself maintains that any reforms or amendments undertaken by government should be consistent with international obligations. And this requirement of mandatory registration is concerning in that it provides for the potential of government interference and politicisation. Treasury itself seems to have recognised and acknowledged that concern and has indicated that it will return to the Finance Committee and indicate that it will proceed on the basis of a of a risk-based assessment in terms of of registration. So not one size fits all and that there will be no mandatory requirement. We haven’t yet seen what the specifics of that proposal will look like, which is why, in the submission that we made, we’ve said that on the basis of this acknowledgement on the part of Treasury, we think that the bill should be republished for comment.

On whether government is rushing through legislative reform at the 11th hour

Obviously it’s a concern. And unfortunately, we see this in several spheres where in fact, government authorities have had quite a lot of advance warning that action needs to be taken. It is only at the 11th hour that any action is taken. In this particular set of circumstances, we have a proposal that would potentially restrict and impede the work of a sector that I think is intrinsic to the health of our democracy. Even if we’re talking about a sort of more considered delicate risk-based approach, that is a proposal which requires real deliberation and consideration. It takes time and and thought and it shouldn’t be one which is rushed and which results in an outcome that is not considered. We recognise the importance of responding to the FATF concerns but not doing so in a way that actually is to the detriment of a large and critical sector of South Africa’s democracy.

On the latest regarding the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit issue

With reference the ZEP matter. This is the termination of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit that applies to around 178,000 Zimbabwean nationals who have lived in South Africa for now over a decade perfectly. They’ve built homes, careers, families here. At the end of last year, they were essentially given very little notice and there was absolutely no consultation with them in terms of ending those permits. Putting them into this incredibly agonising position whereby they would either have to return to Zimbabwe – that is virtually unchanged from the country they fled – or choose to remain in South Africa as vulnerable illegal undocumented migrants. The Helen Suzman Foundation brought a challenge to that decision on the part of the minister and the department saying that if you are going to take a decision of this nature, that at the very least, you have to engage in a process of public participation. That there has to be consultation with those who are at the sharp end of this decision. We are awaiting a court date for a court hearing. Unfortunately, the court postponed the hearing date that had been scheduled for early October. So we are now waiting for the court to issue a new date for hearing.

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