An ISOC officer faces with protesters in Songkhla Province. (File photo)

Cabinet approves draft bill tightening regulation of non-profits

On 4 January, a Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations was approved in principle by the cabinet.  Drawn up by the Office of the Council of the State, the bill now goes to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) for public hearings before being returned to the cabinet for final consideration.

Men in security vests observe protesters. (File photo)

According to a government press release, the Council of the State drafted the new act to stop non-profits from being used for money laundering, and to develop the capacity of non-profits to work with the authorities in an open and transparent manner that truly benefits the public.

The bill has been under consideration since February 2021.  Local civil society organisations (CSOs) have criticised the measure for its excessive regulation of non-profit financing and its vaguely-worded prohibitions.

As currently written, the bill prohibits organisations from engaging in activities that threaten national security, economic stability, foreign relations, public order, public safety and the rights and liberties of others.

Non-profits receiving overseas funding will also need to provide authorities with bank records showing where funds are held and what purpose they serve.  The use of funds for other ends, particularly those deemed political, will not be allowed .

Those found guilty of violating the law face punishments ranging from fines and prison sentences to organisation closure.

The definition of a not-for-profit organisation seems to be clearer: ‘individuals that organise, in one form or another, to collectively pursue activities in society without seeking financial gain, exclusive of groups that stage ad-hoc activities of benefit to group members or political parties.’

On 7 January, No NGO Bill Thailand, a CSO network with the support of some 1,867 organisations and individuals nationwide, announced their opposition to the bill.

In a group statement, the draft was decried as an ill-intentioned effort to control the activities of NGOs in the name of public order and national security that would leave authorities free to decide which groups to prohibit without providing the accused the right to appeal to the Administration Court. It also noted that many laws already regulate CSO registration and financial activity. 

The statement added that while network members supported transparency and oversight, they will: “oppose this bill to the end of the line, until this bill is withdrawn. Over 1,800 organisations and networks around the country have agreed to come out and oppose the government in this matter.”

Civic associations and foundations are currently regulated under the Civil and Commercial Code.  Foundations must register with the Ministry of Interior. Other groups are required to register under other laws. Some are free to operate without registration.

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