Legislation for Non-Profit Organizations

NGOs for Transparency and Against Corruption

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 2, Issue 2, December 1999

Transparency was the theme of an international conference, organised by The Europhil Trust on 27 and 28 September 1999 at the Maagdenhuis Foundation in Amsterdam, jointly with the Interlegal Foundation, Moscow, the Vrije Universiteit (represented by Professors T. van der Ploeg and P. Vlas), Leiden University (Dr. G. van den Berg) and the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation (Prof. H. Hamaekers). The conference was a response to an excellent initiative in the Russian Duma to offer better legal protection to foundations against organised crime and corruption. The Europhil/Interlegal partnership, funded by Charity Know How in the UK, held consultations on this subject last spring in Moscow and London. Moreover, Interlegal has taken the views from civil society organisations all over the Russian Federation via the Internet. Amsterdam was the international crossroads of the project. It brought together 36 experts : 26 from the Western world (Europe, USA, South Africa) and 10 from Central and Eastern Europe. The full Russian-UK team (Mrs. Belyaeva , MM. Currie, Guthrie, Hondius and Kakabadze) was present. The conference opened with a message from Carla del Ponte, the new Prosecutor at the UN Criminal Courts ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda in The Hague. The inaugural speech was made by the Slovak Vice Prime Minister, Ľubomir Fogaš, whose country stands half way between the West and Eastern Europe in terms of civil society legislation and practice.

During the debate it was made clear that malpractice affecting NGOs is by no means confined to Eastern Europe. A French report mentioned the Association de recherche contre le cancer (ARC), which has been harmed by the charity scandal of the 20th century. The Criminal court in Paris will pronounce its verdict on 23 October. A German police officer estimated that 10% of the German public sector is vulnerable to corruption. East and Central European NGOs, including foreign NGOs in the area, are particularly hampered by misconduct as a result of (i) disruption and impoverishment of society, (ii) obstruction by public officials and (iii) distrust of the public. In several countries (inter alia Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland) NGOs militate against corruption, both in and outside of their own circle.

Of course, the famous anti-corruption NGO ‘Transparency International’ was present.

‘Transparency’ is the watchword for the fight against malpractice affecting NGOs, and has two meanings. First through the media, the rôle of which was explained with much wit by Dr. Nico van Eijk in his talk ‘Nowhere to Hide’. Secondly, not only is openness a moral duty of NGOs vis à vis donors, the public and government, but it is also their duty to tell the truth. People may be confused by what they read and the new medium of Internet offers plenty of opportunity for constructing ‘virtual’ realities. Professor Fishman explained how in the USA, the all-seeing eye of the federal tax authority helps to distinguish between fact and fiction.

During the debate on government control versus self-discipline, a paper by Anne Marie Boutin of the French audit office (Cour des comptes) called attention to the new and unique rôle given to that body by a 1991 law as a link between the voluntary world and the State. Regrettably, a participant from a chartered accountancy firm did not show up. This and other lacunae can be made good however if Europhil succeeds in launching a book stemming from the material presented at the Conference. The last day of the Conference was devoted to the proposed Russian law on foundations. The comments collected during the Conference were discussed by the Interlegal-Europhil partnership team at their meeting in Moscow and formed the basis of an Opinion on the draft law adopted on 27 October 1999 by the British team of that partnership.

Information : The Europhil Trust, P.O.Box 100, 67069 Strasbourg Cedex, France

Fax 33 388 56 1210 e-mail hondius@wanadoo.fr