Political campaign of silencing and destabilising the NGOs, in Romania

Wednesday - 22 November 2017
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We are witnessing these very days a coherent campaign of silencing and destabilising not only the NGOs, which are critical towards the state government, but also organisations in the social, health, educational, cultural or environmental field. Several legislative proposals are aiming at reducing access to both private and public funding of NGOs and at placing an increased bureaucratic and administrative burden on already underfunded and overstreched organisations.

Early this week, on November 20th, the Romanian Senate tacitly adopted a number of serious changes to Governmental Ordinance 26/2000 governing the founding and functioning of Romanian NGOs. Even if the changes still need the approval of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, the tacit adoption indicates the continuing political support from the Governmental coalition.

The changes proposed by the two Social Democratic MPs to GO26/2000 and passed by the Senate:

–        Impose on organizations a profoundly discriminatory treatment compared to the rest of the private entities in the country, through the obligation to report (and publish in the    Official Legislative Journal, at their own expense) all sources of income and expenses twice a year, under the threat of dissolution within 30 days. Non-governmental organizations are already subject to the same reporting obligations and the same verification criteria from the tax authorities as other private entities;

–        For the first time, they set up censorship tools for criticisms that organizations sometimes bring to politicians and public elected officials, prohibiting public utility organizations    from engaging in „any kind of campaigns of […] opposition to a political party or candidate for a public office, in which he/she can be nominated or chosen”, an unfortunate phrasing that can lead to very abusive interpretations.

The Civil Society Development Foundation, together with 16 other  NGOs, publically addressed the governing coalition as early as June  2017, pointing to the toxic effects held by these changes proposed by the Social Democratic MPs to GO 26/2000. In the meantime, the only reply came from the Government, which issued a negative consultative opinion regarding the changes, with no effect however on the political actions in the Senate.

The above mentioned  proposed changes only add to other major changes in the fiscal regulations, adopted early November through governmental emergency ordinance, or currently being considered which are to result in dramatically reduced access to private funding through sponsorships and donations for NGOs, starting 2018:

–        due to changes in the taxation system of bussinesses 80% of Romania’s companies will not receive any fiscal incentives for gifts made to non-profits, not even deduction of taxable income

–        even for the remaining 20% of companies that have fiscal facilities for their gifts (annual revenue of more than 1 million EUR) their capacity of sponsoring will be severely affected by adding expenses with internships (accordin to the Internship Law approved by the Government).

The only reply from the political leadership of the governmantal coalition was indirect and consisted of repeated statements meant to mislead public opinion in relation to NGOs:

–        „Soros is to blame for most of what is wrong in the country and NGOs are aiding him.” Such reasoning however is rarely accompanied by any arguments about why the principles of an open society would be harmful to Romania or by any mentions of the fact    that Soros funding for NGOs was highly transparent, over the years;

–        „NGOs, especially public utility ones, abuse public funding.” Such line of argument however totally ignores the fact that public institutions managing funds for NGOs bear the highest responsibility for the legitimate use of said public funds, while civil society itself has demanded increased transparency and competitivity in public funding programmes, especially in the European structural funds.

Together with over 70 NGOs, on November 22nd, we issued a new public statement, demanding the leadership of the Social Democaratic Party to clarify and argue its position with respect to civil society in Romania. We will keep you updated on future developments and thank you in advance for any support you can provide.