Voluntary organisations are warning the authorities that if they do not withdraw controversial regulations governing fundraising by NGOs, the issue will end up at the Council of Europe.
The warning was sounded on Thursday by an action group led by five organisations that are calling on fellow NGOs to continue collecting public funds without applying for a permit to do so.
“We will protect those who are penalised for following our directive,” Robert Aquilina, from Repubblika, told a press conference.
“Additionally, since the basis of the new legal notices is intrinsically wrong and a serious threat for the voluntary sector, if the authorities do not immediately withdraw the notice, we will inform the Council of Europe.”
The new rules, first drawn in September, require voluntary groups to seek the approval of the commissioner of voluntary organisations in various steps involved in raising funds.
Apart from having to apply for a permit that expires after just six months, NGOs seeking to use donation boxes for collections need to pick them up from the office of the commissioner and return them there to count the money collected under supervision.
Envelopes containing donations require a warranted professional to be present when the money is counted and volunteers involved in collections also need to be registered.
Anthony Abela Medici, the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations, recently wrote to NGOs urging them to get in line with the new rules. This prompted a strong pushback by the sector.
Then, earlier this month 92 NGOs, including some of Malta's largest civil society organisations, jointly called for the government to withdraw the rules.
The National Band Club Association, which represents 90 band clubs, also said the new system would strangle the sector.
However, on Thursday, the Voluntary Action Group, formed by Richmond Foundation, Repubblika, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Soċjeta' Mużikali San Ġużepp AD 1889 and SPCA Gozo insisted that suspending the rules was not enough.
Stephania Dimech Sant from Richmond said the group will be calling for the withdrawal of the regulations and wide consultation with all voluntary organisations - something that had not yet taken place.
“We want to understand the objectives behind such rules and how these targets can be reached without hampering the sector.”
'NGOs fill gaps left by public, private sectors'
She noted that voluntary groups filled the gaps left by the public and private sectors.
Among others, the expense for services provided by NGOs would be much higher for the government, while the private sector is not interested in providing services that do not render income.
Alex Torpiano from DLĦ meanwhile raised doubt over the legality of the measures, saying they went counter to existing public fundraising laws.
He noted that not even commercial shops were required to renew their licenses every six months.
“Why are we becoming so much authoritarian with small entities when it was the larger entities that might have erred,” he asked, warning that such regulations could scare away volunteers and discourage those who donated small amounts of money to NGOs.
NGOs who would like to endorse the action group’s stand can send an e-mail here.