The Public Benefits Organisations Act 2013, the new regulatory and administrative framework for non-governmental organisations expected to come into force soon, provides for the establishment of an authority to be known as the Public Benefits Organisations Regulatory Authority.
It is this Authority that will take over the roles and powers of the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordination Act of 1990.
Under the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordination Act 1990, which will stand repealed upon the coming into force of the new law, registered NGOs were under the NGO Coordination Board.
It is this board that has now been turned into an authority to ensure compliance by registered organisations with the administrative and reporting obligations stipulated in the new law.
The law provides that every organisation registered under the Act shall have the freedom to join in association with other organisations as it may desire a forum (network) of public benefit organisations.
This is particularly important for like-minded organisations that may be desirous of pooling their resources and synergy on thematic areas of common interest. But this is not the only avenue open for public benefit organisations keen to form broad-based alliances in pursuit of shared objectives and goals.
The law also establishes the National Federation of Public benefits Organisations, which shall be the umbrella body of all public benefit organisations registered under the Act, among other self-regulation forums recognised by the law.
Unlike in the past when elections to the Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO Council) were marred by massive irregularities and electoral malpractices largely associated with political parties, the elections to offices of the governing body of the Federation shall be supervised by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
One can only hope that in its supervision of the elections to the Federation, the IEBC will do a better job of it and ensure a more transparent, accurate and credible process than it performed during the last general election early this year.
Self-regulation is thus a key plank in any forums that a public benefit organisation may chose to join under the Act. And in an apparent move to avoid a situation whereby such forums become full-fledged organisations as has been the case, and to be able to intervene in resolution of any dispute that may arise between members, each forum shall enter into a recognition agreement with the Authority upon satisfactory proof that it represents a sizeable number of organisations and has the capacity to execute the agenda that brought them together in the first place.
The forums will thus establish and maintain a code of conduct and standards by which its members shall be bound. The law also provides that such forums may, if they so choose, in turn organise themselves into smaller federations for the purposes of enhancing self-regulation.
Time limit set
To ensure a smooth transition into the new regulatory dispensation, all organisations registered under the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordination Act shall be deemed to be registered as public benefit organisations under the new law. Such organisations have, however, been given one year within which to seek fresh registration under the Public Benefits Organisations Act 2013 to be fully accorded the status of a public benefit organisation.
Similarly, members of the Board of the NGO Coordination Bureau serving before the commencement of the new law shall be deemed to be members of the Board of the new Regulatory Authority and shall continue to serve in their respective offices for the remainder of their three-year terms.
The same shall apply to the staff of the NGO Coordination Bureau and the NGO Council serving before the appointed date of the commencement of the new law.
And as happens with many other written laws, and in order to conform to the constitutional requirement for public participation, the Civil Society Organisations Reference Group is working round the clock with the NGOs Coordination Board to hammer out the Rules and Regulations that will guide the day-to-day operations of the sector and its relations with the regulatory authority.
Once the Rules and Regulations are in place, the Cabinet Secretary responsible for National Planning will gazette the commencement date of the Public Benefits Organisations Act, 2013, heralding a new era in which relations between the Government and non-state actors should be characterised by mutual respect and a spirit of complimentarity as opposed to suspicion.
The writer, a member of the Publicity Committee of the Civil Society Organisations Reference Group, comments on topical issues.