The Prayut Chan-o-cha government needs to pay heed to activists’ calls to drop a bill that seeks to curtail non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Earlier this week, the activists and their networks began drumming up attempts to have the contentious bill shot down, alleging that it is a poorly modified version of the one they favour.
In a recent radio discussion, Somboon Khamhang, leader of the Coordinating Committee of NGOs in the South, noted that the activists’ version was aimed at garnering state support for their operation, including funding — a practice typically found in advanced countries to form a development partnership with governments.
But when the bill was submitted to the cabinet in January, the government, through the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, worked out its own version, seeking to control the civil sector by requiring mandatory registration for NGOs.
It was reported that the government-sponsored bill went through a public hearing as activists cried foul over the process, condemning the move as “lacking transparency”.
The problems surrounding the government’s bill lie in the fact that it has an ulterior motive: silencing the activists.
If the bill is passed into law, it will require NGOs to register and declare all foreign donations. A new state panel will also be set up with enormous powers to oversee NGOs’ operations.
The bill disproportionately stipulates that anyone failing to register will be fined up to 500,000 baht with additional fines of 10,000 baht per day.
The activists say they are not against state scrutiny, but measures mentioned in the bill are not necessary as there are already existing laws regulating NGOs.
In order to press for their demands, activists from several regions are camping in front of the United Nations office on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok. They have vowed to begin a demonstration on Monday with networks across the country ready to be called up until the bill is scrapped.
In a bid to downplay the dispute, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has urged the activists to not worry “too much” about the bill as little progress has been made in legislative terms.
In an interview on Tuesday, he claimed the bill would not be vetted by the current parliament, but perhaps the one put in place after the next general election.
He said that current legislators are prioritising a handful of other bills instead.
It seems such remarks are seen as just empty talk.
Indeed, there is no need for such a contentious bill to even be considered. As the Prayut Chan-o-cha government always claims, it has an obligation to be open to scrutiny and criticism from the civil sector.
But instead, those with differing opinions are being treated as enemies who must be regulated.
The government should instead look into setting aside some financial backing without any strings attached or at least encourage public donations for NGOs, many of which work for the betterment of the country and its environmental protection.
By locally supporting NGOs, activists will be less dependent on foreign donors and can be more accountable.
What is needed now is constructive dialogue between both parties. It’s time for the government to see reason and avoid a negative predicament.
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