NGOCHR queries new amendments to the Companies Act

The NGO Coalition on Human Rights is concerned about recent comments made in parliament on amendments to the Companies Act 2015 and its effects on civil society and non-profit organisations.

The Companies (Amendment) Bill was passed last week in parliament, which would enforce accountability requirements on charitable organisations such as NGOs and civil society. The Prime Minister made comments concerning charitable organisations not “utilising the donations for the purpose for which the donations were made.” The Attorney General made similar remarks about “mischiefs” by charitable organisations.

The Coalition welcomes the commitment for better accountability but is concerned that this was the priority, at a time when the country is struggling to stabilise through the COVID-19 pandemic new normal.

“Sweeping statements and harmful generalisations about the very people doing the work on the ground is not conducive to improving our current situation. The AG’s ambiguous comments made it seem as if it is a “mischief” for charitable organisations to register as companies limited by guarantee, which it is not,” said the NGOCHR Chair Nalini Singh.

“There is a wide diversity of charitable groups and organisations working tirelessly on the ground within their different capacities to ensure families and communities are coping with the impacts of COVID-19. NGOs, civil society and charitable organisations are answerable to their communities and constituencies and have internal and external checks and balances to ensure they are accountable to them and those that support their work. The recent debate is not new and only fosters intimidation from the government, who are more concerned about policing funding and civil society accountability over the more pressing issues,” she said.

The Act will require charitable companies to prepare and submit their financial statements to the Registrar of Companies (ROC) within four months from the end of the financial year. Failing to do so can result in the charitable company being publically named and shamed by the registrar of companies.

“It’s puzzling that the government chooses now to discuss issues of accountability. Civil society and NGOs have been flagging the growing humanitarian crisis in Fiji in the past few months including food security, health and access to justice. Many have had to pivot all programmes towards responding to COVID-19 and have been calling for the government to do the same and respond with urgency. The comments made by members of parliament continue to be tone-deaf to these issues. This is an opportune time to reach out to the civil society and NGOs working on the ground towards a collaborative, conciliatory effort to nation-build.”

The NGOCHR reiterates the need for accountability at all levels of society and looks forward to the same from the government.

“It is also important for the government to ensure its own accountability towards the people so we expect similar enforcement across government bodies and ministries.”

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The Members of the NGOCHR include the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Citizen’s Constitutional Forum, femLINKpacific, Social Empowerment and Education Programme, and DIVA for Equality FIJI. Pacific Network on Globalisation and @Haus of Khameleon (HoK) are observers.

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