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“Unhealthy” Attention to NPOs in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan wants again to bound non-profit organisations (NPOs) to account for their sources of income and expenditures.

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Deputies of the parliament have developed the relevant draft law and indicated in the background statement that although the majority of these organisations do not carry on business, they still have to submit reports regularly. It is explained by the fact that the state needs to see the operations of NPOs, purposes and outcomes thereof.

One of the initiators of this amendment is Deputy Baktybek Raiymkulov, who said that one of the reasons of this amendment is that the people would know better about the good things done by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“This draft law indicates that all the money coming from abroad should be transparent. They should account for every penny and declare the purposes of their expenditures.  We want the government to determine a mechanism for NGOs to report. The people should know how much money they receive and what they spend them on. Today, there are NGOs that are doing good things, but people don’t know about them. If everything is transparent, people would know about good things they do,” the parliamentarian said.

The mechanism sets out that a non-profit organisation carrying out its activities based on grants or budget funds should report its incomes and expenditures to the government every year. “In case of failure to meet the said requirements, the violator shall be held liable according to the law of Kyrgyzstan,” the draft law reads.

The deputies also refer to such countries as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and others, where non-profit organisations submit reports on grant funds expenditures.

Foreign agents

This is not the first attempt to tighten control over the operations of non-profit organisations in Kyrgyzstan.

In 2014, the so-called draft law on foreign agents was initiated by Deputies Tursunbai Bakir uulu and Nurkamil Madaliev. According to it, non-profit and non-governmental organisations financed from abroad were treated as “foreign agents”.

NPOs argued against the draft law, held public discussions and protests. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, OSCE, International Federation For Human Rights, and World Organisation Against Torture also urged not to adopt this draft law.

The protest against the law on foreign agents in Bishkek. May 2016. Photo: Kaktus.media

In May 2016, after two years of discussions, the parliament dismissed the initiative.

However, some officials and politicians raise the issues of toughening control over the non-governmental sector from time to time.

In March 2019, during the parliament discussion of the scandal march on the International Women’s Day with participation of LGBT community, chair of GKNB Orozbek Opumbaev offered to follow suit of Russia.

“The law on NPOs adopted in Russia and other countries is what we need these days. The main problem is that their funds are out of control. Where do they get the funds from, what they spend them on, what are their purposes, what organisation lobbies that? So, if we had this law, we’d have control over them and know the organisations that lobby them, what foreigners come here and how we can resist them,” he said (cited from Kaktus.media).

But this idea was just a suggestion.

According to the head of Legal Clinic Adilet, Cholpon Dzhakupova, in August 2019, the Ministry of Economy also initiated this law. Officials suggested to extend the law “On control of commercial entities” on non-profit organisations. However, human rights defenders managed to cancel the amendments that time.

On January 15, the deputy of the parliament, Gulshat Asylbaeva, brought up a draft law “On amendments to the Tax Code of the Kyrgyz Republic” for public discussion. The draft entitles the tax service to have continuous tax monitoring of operations of non-profit organisations. It also prohibits the officers of international projects and programmes to work based on voluntary patent. This norm will also concern the services of photographers, translators/interpreters, transportation services, etc.

Partnership Group Precedent in its legal analysis noted that the background statement does not contain good arguments in favour of such amendments. However, it gives broad powers to a fiscal agency to intervene in operations of non-profit organisations.

“The provisions of the draft law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On amendments to the Tax Code of the Kyrgyz Republic” contain big corruption factors and give broad powers to a fiscal agency to intervene in operations of non-profit organisations,” the legal analysis reads.

“Unhealthy” attention

The current draft law was not supported. Business associations and expert non-profit organisations of Kyrgyzstan delivered a message against the new initiative. They specified that it is a new attempt to get organisations under additional control, which proves the “intense, biased and ‘unhealthy’ attention to the operations of NPOs.”

Any ban means control, while control always means corruption.

“Any business association, professional expert NPO always cares about its image, is open to dialogue and absolutely transparent in its operations. Therefore, we find it paramount and reputational to meet the requirements of tax law, financial statements and anti-corruption efforts,” the message reads.

Klara Sooronkulova. Photo: elgezit.kg

Similar protests against accounting for NPOs do not mean they are against transparency, said Klara Sooronkulova, ex-chair of the Supreme Court, which is the requirement of donors. According to her, the risk is that any ban means control, while control always means corruption.

“The situation will be the same as in Russia. When they adopted the law on foreign agents, donors stopped sending money. However, donor funds are used to implement social projects. In Russia, social projects of NPOs are funded by the state itself. And our state cannot do this and NPOs will just cease to exist,” Sooronkulova said.

According to experts, this initiative can be based not so much on domestic political reasons, as on geopolitical interests. For example, in Russia, the law “On non-profit organisations” is valid since 2012, and the law “On media as foreign agents” was adopted in 2017, and the status of “foreign agents” was permitted to be given to individuals in December 2019.

 “The point is that the level of freedom in one small country can influence the situation in the whole region. Therefore, it’s clear why authoritarian Russia worries about the role of NPOs in the Kyrgyz society,” Almaz Tazhibai, head of State Policy Analysis Centre.

Аида Алымбаева. Фото взято с личной страницы в Facebook

Political analyst Aida Alymbaeva thinks that if the draft law becomes law, it would be a big loss for social spheres of Kyrgyzstan, which have little attention from the state. But non-profit organisations do work in these spheres.

 “These spheres need to be supported. What does our state do in this regard? Instead of welcoming and supporting NPOs, it just places obstacles. These methods of pressure will be beneficial neither for the authorities nor for the society,” she said.

Besides, according to Cholpon Dzhakupova who spoke at the round table on January 29, the draft law does not meet the constitutional requirements in terms of grounds and limits of restriction of human right to freedom of association.

“It suggests introducing repeated norms for NGO reporting. It’s an obvious discrimination as only three types of NPOs will need to meet the requirements – provide statements about the sources of funding, salary of employees, and the staff. This initiative is very dangerous as it can cause defamation, prosecution and violence,” the human rights defender said.

Main photo: Scam Detector

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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