The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law
Volume 2, Issue 2, December 1999
The Budget for 1999/2000, which was approved by Parliament on 2 February 1999, abolished all exemptions from taxes previously granted to institutions (nahads) and foundations (bonyads) affiliated with the government that are engaged in profit-seeking activities. In addition, donations by individuals and legal entities towards the construction of educational, cultural, medical and similar buildings or of roads and bridges are now allowable deductions for income tax purposes.
(Iranian Tax Review No. 24, Summer 1999)
The Ministry of Finance is reported to have agreed that environmental organisations can be regarded as public interest organisations, which will entitle them to exemption from income tax on contributions received. However, public interest status will not entitle taxpayers making donations to environmental organisations to income tax relief, and environmental groups are continuing to lobby for tax relief for their donors.
Five years after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA), there is still no law regulating the activities of NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza (See the addendum to this article by the Palestinian NGO Network, for an update on the situation in the West Bank and Gaza). This is a consequence of the still-unresolved debate within the PA on how to deal with NGO participation in service provision and civic life in general. Recent developments, however, may indicate that a law could eventually be signed.
The latest attempt to develop an NGO law, in early 1998, arose out of a joint effort between the political sub-committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and a coalition of NGOs. The resulting “Draft Law of Charitable Associations and Community Organizations” offers a sound framework for establishing a modus operandi between the PA and NGOs. Since 1998, the draft NGO law has been through four readings at the PLC, in the course of which several amendments were proposed by the Executive, mainly focused on the identity of the agency responsible for registering NGOs and overseeing their activities. The law drafted by the PLC designates the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) as the responsible agency, whereas the Executive has insisted on the Ministry of Interior (MOI). On May 25, 1999, the final reading of the law took place at the PLC. The PA amendment that the MOI be the responsible authority was rejected by a vote of 38 votes to 12.
Following the PLC vote and in response to a misquotation of a UNESCO report on donor assistance to the legal sector by Agence France Presse, which contended that human rights NGOs had received $98 million in aid (the correct figure was in fact $9 million), the PA began to publicly criticize the record of the Palestinian NGO community. The criticisms were initially aimed at human rights NGOs, but soon extended to the non-governmental sector as a whole, with accusations of dishonest practices and of taking funds for personal use. By June, an acrimonious debate between the PA and NGOs was being conducted actively in the press.
On June 13, 1999, the PA Cabinet created a special committee of ministers “to study the current situation of Palestinian NGOs and the law regulating their operations.” Meanwhile, the political and legal committees of the PLC were asked to look into the legality of the May 25 vote. The committees found that, on that day, the requisite number of votes (2/3 of the PLC members’ votes when voting on a presidential amendment — Article 68-B of the PLC Standing Order) was not reached, since only 50 members out of 88 attended the session. The legal committee of the PLC therefore declared the vote illegal. The vote on the amendment was also determined to be illegal because the amendment had been sent by the President after the mandatory 30-day period. (Article 68-A of the PLC Standing Order stipulates that “if the President does not return a law to the Council within thirty days, the law shall be considered issued and published immediately in the official gazette.”)
On August 12, 1999, the debate surrounding the NGO law finally came to a close when the PLC Speaker declared that: “After reviewing all legal aspects, the Council has found that the amendment made by President Arafat on the content of the law governing NGOs is procedurally correct.” The May 25 vote was nullified and the law was then changed such that the MOI is now the responsible authority. Some PLC members contested this decision and demanded that the amendment be voted again, since the first vote was found void, but gave up citing weariness at the long controversy. The NGO community also seems to have accommodated itself to the August 12 decision, believing that this amendment still leaves the body of a positive piece of legislation intact.
Today, the law is still awaiting President Arafat’s signature. His signature is understood to be conditional on the release of implementation guidelines for the law, which is common practice in the West Bank and Gaza. The newly appointed Minister for NGO Affairs has been instructed by President Arafat to prepare these guidelines, in consultation with the MOI. Two drafts have been produced to date, one by the Ministry of NGO Affairs and one by the Palestinian NGO Network. Both drafts draw on a variety of experts and opinions, including lawyers, NGO activists, representatives of the executive branch of the PA, and PLC members. The two parties are currently discussing the two sets of guidelines and report that they will soon come to an understanding.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that a group of NGOs is currently developing a Code of Ethics which proposes a set of practices and principles to govern the non-governmental sector such as transparency, accountability and proper financial procedures. The Code of Ethics also outlines the kind of relationship NGOs would want to entertain with the PA, donors and the local community. Once finalized, the document will be discussed with representatives of the various NGO networks in the West Bank and Gaza and presented to all stakeholders for agreement.
Institutional Development Specialist
The World Bank Resident Mission
West Bank and Gaza
President Arafat Signs the NGO Law
January 20, 2000
President Arafat has signed the NGO Law delineating the relationship between
the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian non-governmental organizations
Although the place of NGO registration remains with the Ministry of Interior
instead of the Ministry of Justice, an alteration that is incompatible with
the Palestinian Legislative Council’s procedures, we welcome this event as a
major achievement for Palestinian civil society and its numerous NGOs and
With the official signature, this NGO Law becomes, in most of its articles,
the most progressive law of its kind in the Middle East.
The current challenge is to ensure that the rule of this new law will
prevail in guiding future government and NGO relations.
For more information please contact Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi at 050 254 218.
The Palestinian NGO Network