Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Watching the Watchdogs

Before the CPA dissolved, it left Iraq with an NGO law regulating the operation of the third sector. This is the key law on the books and it is likely that the new government, once in office, will pass a new law modeled after the CPA's.

The government has a legitimate interest in maintaining records on NGOs operating in Iraq. If for no other reason than their tax status, some oversight is reasonable. However, there is the possibility that these laws will eventually be used to restrict NGOs that do not have the favor of the government. In Iraq, the risk is particularly acute. Once the new government is formed, the parties in the coalition will be assigned operation of the ministries. The political party which wins the agency ultimately responsible for oversight could apply the laws to disadvantage NGOs that do not support their agenda. Right now the Ministry of Planning is charged with administering NGOs, but there are calls for the creation of a new, more independent government agency.

The risk that the law will be applied with political motivations should not be the only concern. Under the CPA, there were bureaucratic obstacles. Difficulties with registration required that the law be amended. Why does the law require that registrations be submitted in Arabic, Kurdish, and English, but the law is only available in Arabic and English? Each one of these regulations could be grounds for the government to shut down an NGO.

Right now, NGOs throughout the country are proposing ways that the new law can balance their interests and the government's.


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