Laws to regulate NGOs in Guyana under consideration
Stabroek News
January 18, 2004

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A process is underway to draft and lobby for legislation which will regulate non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Guyana.

The NGO Forum, at its annual general meeting last Thursday, discussed how this should be done and it was suggested that all NGOs be made aware of what is being done and be encouraged to participate, since all will be affected by the outcome.

Belize already has laws governing NGOs, while Barbados has a draft and these models were referred to during the discussion. Meanwhile, on Friday, Senior Programme Officer with the Caribbean Policy Develop-ment Centre (CPDC), Richard Jones met some members of the NGO Forum to discuss laws on NGOs as they stand in the Caribbean

Among the reasons stated for such legislation were to have NGOs be governed by an autonomous umbrella body to ensure consistency and in some cases continuity; to have tax concessions; to give clear meaning to NGOs and their areas of operation, activities and general membership. It was also noted that the present legislation is governed by the Friendly Societies Act or Company's Act.

Concerns were raised about registration of NGOs requiring the approval of one person and it was suggested that government intervention should be minimal. Areas that could prove problematic for small NGOs were also discussed and these include reporting procedures, the submission of annual audited financial statements and having a quorum for an AGM.

A team from the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL) advised the forum that specific attention should be paid to lobbying procedures and that the relevant minister and the Attorney General should be informed of the decision to address NGO legislation. GAWL indicated that it would be willing to send a representative to join the initial discussions.

At Friday's meeting, Jones, on behalf of the CPDC, offered limited technical and financial help to assist in the consultancy process.

He noted that laws were important given the expanded role of NGOs and their current blossoming since more focus is being placed on civil society. Also, such laws set a standard by which NGOs operate and will allow for the monitoring of NGO programmes. NGO legislation would also help NGOs gain legitimacy and allow them to have a say in the policies governments are implementing.

He said that at this stage in Caribbean development, laws to regulate NGOs are a natural progression. It must be recognised that NGOs have moved from doing simple projects to large developmental projects worldwide, while those in Guyana and the Caribbean continue to exist under outdated rules and regulations.

However, in addition to Guyana, St Vincent, St Kitts and Grenada are considering such legislation. And St Lucia's Prime Minister has given the Attorney General the necessary instructions to draft laws for NGOs.

Jones added that governments should not see NGOs as a hindrance, but as complementing government's work.

The CPDC is the umbrella organisation for NGOs in the Caribbean and represents civil society at Caricom Heads of government meetings.

Meanwhile, the NGO Forum also held its elections and its new executive body is: Lance Tyrell, chairman; Dorothy Fraser, vice-chairman; Sinikka Henry, secretary; Jennifer Dewar, treasurer; and trustees Lateef Lisimba, Jannice Simmons, Trevor Benn, Hazel Halley-Burnett, Mona Bynoe, Shayla Harry, Omattie Seaforth, Coralie Simmons, Jennifer messiah, Dale Kingston, Aaron Blackman and Jennifer Thomside.