Malta NGO Law Working Group Update

15 July 2004

On Thursday, 15 July, the NGO Law Working Group met Minister Dolores Cristina who is responsible for NGO legislation in Malta. The position of the Working Group has already been made public, namely through the Memorandum it has drawn up, so this short report will focus on the Minister's comments. Mr. Jesmond Schembri, PA to the Minister, also took part in the meeting.

The NGO Law Working Group was represented by Ms. Doris Bingley (National Council of Women of Malta), Ms. Patricia Camilleri (The Archaeology Society), Dr. Robert G. Coenen (Institute for Maltese Culture), Ms. Kay Gretchen (Malta Centre for Human Development), Dr. Adrian Grima (Forum for Justice and Cooperation), Ms. Claudia Taylor-East (SOS Malta), and Ms. Mary Grace Vella (Moviment Graffitti).

NGO Representation and the Recommendations

The Minister started off by saying that she noted that the Recommendations were drawn up by a small number of NGOs. The members of the Working Group explained the process and how an unprecedented large number of NGOs were actually involved.

The Minister noted that many, but not all, of the recommendations in the Memorandum "had already been taken on board" by "the two main drafters" of the White Paper on NGO legislation in Malta which is now at the AG. She said that the public debate that will follow the publication of the White Paper (no date has yet been set) will give the NGOs and the Government the opportunity to tackle the remaining issues.

Media Access

The minister asked for clarification on the section regarding Media Access. One member of the Working Group replied that it was common practice in many countries to require so many hours during broadcast to be dedicated to public service announcements. Another added that pro bono work for non-profit organizations by professionals and businesses was encouraged for the benefit of society by many governments, with tax deductions offered as an incentive.

Remuneration for Committee Members

Another issue that was raised by the Minister was whether the members of the committee could also be employees of the NGOs or receive remuneration for services rendered. The Working Group explained that normally committee members are not paid for sitting on the committee but that given the limited human resources in the country it would be unwise to restrict committee members to people who are not paid for services they may render to the NGO. However, the Working Group emphasized that committee members, though they may be employees, do not receive remuneration for their work while acting in the capacity of Board members.

Defining “Voluntary”

The Minister said that she had queries about the definition of "voluntary" in the Memorandum. The Working Group pointed out that the definition was taken from the Commonwealth document called NGOs: Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice. The Group also explained that voluntary groups as she understood them and modern-day NGOs are not quite the same thing

The Minister also asked whether the Group would include "Foundations," professional bodies or similar organizations in the NGO law. The Group explained that the the two definitions they liked best were NGOs and NPOs (non-profit organizations).

NGOs and the Government

Although there was considerable discussion of what type of support NGOs would like from the Government, which included the topic of funding, the members of the Working Group explained that support in the form of expertise, for instance in speakers for meetings to bring organizations up to date on legal developments which affect them, or liaison facilities in Brussels, and other "in kind" forms of assistance would be very helpful. It was also pointed out that NGOs were prepared to help themselves function more effectively through networking, which would include sharing best practices. In connection with this discussion, one of the members of the Working Group announced that her organization is in the process of setting up a Resource Centre for NGOs and more information would be forthcoming as soon as agreements with the business community were confirmed.

Length of Consultation Process

When asked how long the consultation process on the White Paper would be, the Minister said that four weeks should be enough. One of the members of the Working Group said that this period should not be less than two months because NGOs are mainly run by volunteers who already have a lot of work on their hands and they would need time to initiate a consultation process within their organizations, which would also include seeking legal advice; another member proposed six weeks.

Waiting for the White Paper

No date for further meetings was set. It appears that no further consultation is deemed necessary by the Government until after the White Paper is published.

For more information about the process that led to the drawing up of the Recommendations by the NGO Law Working Group in Malta and for the full text of the Recommendations based on the ICNL checklist go to: http://inizjamed.org/ngosinmalta.htm.