UN rep: OK for NGOs to get foreign funding

Teoh El Sen | September 8, 2012
Even the Malaysia government received foreign funding but nobody has accused it of being a 'foreign agent', argues United Nations Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai.
KUALA LUMPUR: There is nothing wrong for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to receive foreign funding, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, said today.
The prominent human rights activist and lawyer from Kenya said that if governments and businesses can receive foreign funding, the same standards should also be applied to NGOs or associations.
“If the work of an association demands funding, there should no restriction about funding, whether domestic or international,” he said at a forum here about international standards and practices in exercising freedom of assembly and association.
“Just the same way government receive funding… I know Malaysia received a lot of foreign funding in its early days, it should now be a provider of funding. Nobody accused the government of being a
foreign agent,” he said.
“The same standards that apply to the state, must also be extended to NGOs or businesses. I can bet you that more than half of these companies access foreign funding, that’s the way the world works, that’s what globalisation is about…” he said.
Kiai said that people would not be able to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of associations without any funding.
However, he also reminded that there was also the duty for civil society to be accountable.
But, he added that such accountability must be independently done, and not forced upon in a manner that restricts or controls the society. “The demands to be accountable must be made by citizens, that’s what the international law says,” he said.
The UN expert’s views come in the wake of recent public scrutiny over the funding and organisational structure of a popular human rights body, Suaram, since July.
Suaram’s “independence” was questioned after some quarters revealed that it was consistently a recipient of annual allocations from the US-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) organisation since 2006.

Foreign powers
Pro-establishment Malay rights groups demanded to know why Suaram was registered as a company, Suara Inisiatif Sdn Bhd, with a paid-up capital of RM2.
Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM) and Perkasa have accused the NGO of being funded by foreign powers to “destabilise the peace of the country”.
The Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) then raided Suaram’s offices and found that the company was suspected of having breached the Companies Act 1965 for carrying out activities unrelated to the purpose of its establishment as a business.
More recently, Germany’s Ambassador to Malaysia, Dr Guenter Georg Gruber, admitted to channelling funds to Suara Inisiatif to finance specific project initiatives.
In response, Foreign Minister Anifah Aman asked for an explanation of the funding, saying that it could be “seen as interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state” because the Malaysian government considers Suaram to be politically-biased.
Suaram has consistently denied any wrondoings and in defence, claim that the timing of the checks were clearly “political” as the NGO has been aggressively highlighting the suspected corruption in the Scorpene scandal, which implicates Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.
Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong has revealed that Suaram receives money from Finland, the United States, Canada and various state governments in Malaysia, as well as donations from citizens.
He argues that Suaram was a registered company as the authorities have traditionally made it difficult for vocal NGOs to be properly registered as a society.

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