By Zinta Miezaine, NGO Center, Riga
The Latvian Saeima (Parliament) has passed, and the President has endorsed, the Law on Associations and Foundations. This law can be regarded as a new constitution for NGO s in Latvia. It will be in force effective April 1, 2004.
The law will set standards for the entire lifecycle of both associations – members’ organizations — and foundations – organizations which are created to manage property to achieve a good for society. It is important to note that prior to enactment of the new law, Latvian law did not recognize the legal status of “foundations,” and most existing foundations were required to register as not-for-profit companies with limited liability. This made it impossible for them to obtain government assistance or tax deductions. The new law, by establishing the foundation as a form of organization, has laid the groundwork to resolve these issues.
An innovation introduced by the law is the regulation of volunteer work. The law resolves several outstanding problems related to NGO’s work with volunteers. It is anticipated that there will be a special law that deals with voluntary work in schools, hospitals and other agencies that are not associations or foundations. The Volunteer Center has developed a concept for law on volunteer work, as well as a draft law, which it has submitted to the Parliament.
Adoption of The Law of Associations and Foundations is only the first step in legal reform for the sector. The Saeima is still debating the Law on Coming into Force of the Law of Associations and Foundations. In addition, it has under consideration the Law of Public Benefit Organizations and related amendments to the tax laws.
The Law on Associations and Foundations, as well as the other draft law affecting NGOs, were developed on the initiative of the NGO Center in close cooperation with responsible ministries and the NGO community. The Center is grateful to ICNL experts Stephan E. Klingelhofer, Douglas Rutzen and Catherine Shea, who contributed to the process with good advice, methodological materials, and shared experiences from other countries, and discussed the need for change with Latvian politicians and media. Thank you!