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Sri Lanka: Amendment Planned for NGO Funding Rules

(Apr. 29, 2014) According to Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the country plans to amend laws on funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The changes would give authorities the right to review the funding received by NGOs. (Sri Lankan Government to Amend Laws Related to Funding of NGOs, COLOMBO PAGE (Apr. 25, 2014).)

Rajapaksa was answering a statement by a newspaper editor to the effect that at present there is no transparency concerning the moneys received or spent by those organizations in Sri Lanka. The President noted that under the laws now in force, it is difficult for the government to determine how NGOs are funded. G.L. Peiris, the Minister of External Affairs, noted that NGOs had been required to reveal their sources of income and how they spent their funds under laws that had been in place up until 1977, but are no longer required to do so. (Id.)

Observers have previously raised the concern that tighter controls could be imposed on NGOs. Writing in 2010, Rohan Edrisinha of the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo said, “[t]oday there is a strong likelihood that legislation will be introduced to facilitate greater governmental control of nongovernmental organizations through various means, including tighter control of the receipt of foreign funding.” (Sri Lanka, 12 INTERNATIONL JOURNAL OF NOT-FOR-PROFIT LAW (May 2010).) At that time, each NGO had to register as a society, a company, a cooperative society, or a social service organization or be legally incorporated by an Act of Parliament. (Id.)

A statement from June 2013 from the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development supported oversight of the country’s NGOs as necessary for national security and to counter terrorism, emphasizing that:

regulation, transparency and accountability of funding to NGOs and NPOs [non-profit organizations] is a pre-requisite in the interest of national security and counter-terrorism as recognized by states, and that obligation placed on states to adhere to the regulatory framework in compliance with 40 Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force, makes it mandatory to monitor fund transfers of all financial institutions inclusive of NPOs and INGOs (associations) and other financial institutions, in countering financing of terrorism, money laundering or other related trans-national crimes. (Sri Lanka Emphasizes Need for Regulation, Transparency, and Accountability in Funding to NGOs and NPOs, Ministry of Defense and Urban Development website (last updated June 25, 2013).)