NGO Registration Law to be Drafted

By Nyein Nyein 17 August 2012

The drafting of a new registration law specifically for non-governmental organizations was approved by Burma’s Lower House of Parliament on Thursday while existing legislation will also be reviewed.

Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann responded favorably to a proposal “urging the government to draft an NGO registration law commensurate with the age as the president called for cooperation with civil societies in the democratic transition.” The matter was first brought up last week by Thein Nyunt, an MP for the New National Democracy Party.

Shwe Mann instructed the Lower House Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission, Bill Committee, interested MPs and the respective ministry, “to revise the orders and regulations and to draft new legislation as necessary.” He said they should “submit the report as soon as possible assuming it as a special case” as the procedures for NGO registration should be handled smoothly.

Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brig-Gen Kyaw Zan Myint objected to drafting a new NGO law during the debate. “There is no need to draft new legislation as the current registration law is still sophisticated and their regulations have nothing to amend.” Instead he recommended putting the matter on record.

Shwe Mann said current regulations and bylaws are insufficient and so necessary amendments needed to be made. He told MPs that the current rules, regulations and orders of the registration law “lack practicality and flexibility” as they “went beyond the purpose of the original law.”

As well as the new legislation specifically for NGOs Shwe Mann said that the existing 1988 Registration Law should also be reviewed.

“The speaker’s decision to make amendments by the parliamentary committee and parliamentarians will be effective as it would be quicker than the government drafting legislation,” Thein Nyunt added.

Thirteen lawmakers—from the main opposition National League for Democracy, National Unity Party, Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party and National Democratic Force—discussed the need to have flexible procedures for NGO registration on Wednesday and Thursday.

NGOs inside Burma have to register under the restrictive 1988 Registration Law which was enacted in September 1988, shortly after the nationwide Aug. 8 popular uprising in Burma and in time for the 1990 general election. Any associations which are not registered under this law can be charged with the Unlawful Association Act which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Thein Nyunt said the law was enacted to restrict any organization from political activities at that time, but now the country is reforming and so the political landscape is different. He added that fresh legislation is needed as there are no specific guidelines for NGOs that would help socioeconomic development in Burma to operate officially.

Shwe Mann also pointed out the inclusion of “unpractical requirements” in the rules such as the high cost of registration. NGOs must pay 100,000 kyat (US $110) and submit report every two years under the regulations, but in reality sources say that groups must pay up to 500,000 kyat ($550) to be registered.

There are currently around 270 NGOs registered at the Ministry of Home Affairs while more than 1,000 are actually working inside Burma, according to Kyaw Zan Myint.