| by Kingsley Karunaratne.
( August 5, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka guardian) A national conference of NGO’s in Sri Lanka was convened last Thursday at CSR Auditorium in Colombo. The joint conveners of the conference were Dr. Pakiasothi Sarawanamuttu, Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Mr. J.C. Weliamuna, Mr. Sudarshana Gunawardena, and Mr. Britto Fernando. This was convened to protest the circular Issued by the Director of NGO Secretariat, which operates under the Ministry of Defense, warning NGO’s not to conduct press conferences, issue press releases or organize workshops for journalists as they were beyond their mandate.
Britto Fernando, explaining the objective of the meeting said that,”We challenge the government that according to our mandate, it is possible to handle these projects. We have not exceeded our mandate, but the NGO Secretariat had violated their mandate by issuing arbitrary circulars”.
Sudarshana Gunawardena, Executive Director of Rights Now said that, ”According to the no.31 of Registration & Monitoring of Social Service Voluntary Organizations Act and the subsequent regulations gazette by the Minister of Social Services in the month of October, 1999, the circular is irregular and do not have any legal foundation .We have not gone beyond our mandate. The circular is not accordance with the supreme law of the land, Constitution of Sri Lanka. It violates the section 14 of our constitution, on the freedom of speech and expression including publication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and the freedom of association”.
“Some NGO’s are registered under the social service Ministry while others are registered under the Company Registrar as Non Profit Organizations. Anyway Now we hear that there are moves of the government preparing for legislations to get all these NGO’s register under the Ministry of Defense”
Next Constitutional Lawyer, Mr. J.C. Weliamuna said that, “We have to move away from the “myth” and the Ministry of Defense had no legal authority under any statute to control the freedom of speech and association of citizens who act collectively through civil society organizations. He reiterated that we need not take any legal action on this circular or any other thing as these are not in accordance with the law in Sri Lanka. Even in United Nations Charter section 19 & 20 deals with these important freedoms of speech, expression including publication, freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of association”.
“To prevent corruption, countries are requested to corporate with NGO’s. NGO can do anything other than illegal acts. Under emergency some organizations can be proscribed. If we have not exceeded the limits of law, it is quite enough. Along with the freedom of association, we have our own independence of private life. The contribution on the part of NGO’s on human rights violations, Rule of Law, corruption and so many other things are excessive and important. In 2009, it was estimated that there were 90,000 NGO’s worldwide. The influence of the country by flow of foreign exchange into the country’s balance sheet is immense. If the government does not need funds to come for NGO’s, they will have to amend the law. Under the existing law, it is not possible. Even it is not possible with exchange law” he further said.
Dr. Pakiasothi Sarawanamuttu, Executive Director, Centre for policy alternatives, said that “Civil society organizations protect and defend the marginalized and vulnerable sections of society. We do not have any intention to grab the political power. Between 1993-1994, when the civil society organizations engaged with political powers, that was a crucial time for civil society organizations for their progress. According to the International Covenant on Civil and political rights (ICPPR), no government who is a signatory for ICCPR, cannot restrict funds for NGO’s.