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NGOs Have More Room to Develop
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China will revise laws and policies to encourage the development of foreign and domestic non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a senior official has been quoted as saying.

Among the key changes are a simplified registration procedure for all NGOs and better communication with governments, said Sun Weilin, director of the bureau for NGO administration affiliated to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

A foundation will also be set up to recognize and reward NGOs with good performance.

"The ministry is drawing up a detailed draft for revising laws and regulations, with the main objective of giving more room for NGOs to grow," Sun told China Business News.

He was speaking at a recent ceremony where the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme signed an agreement to support a large-scale initiative aimed at strengthening the rule of law and enhancing civil society participation in China. The program will be implemented by the National People's Congress, the Supreme People's Court and the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

"If the registration procedure is simplified for domestic NGOs and foreign NGOs can register as NGOs, it will make it easier for them to operate and raise funds for their programs," Li Jianghua, the deputy representative of the China branch of Handicap International, told China Business News.

Experts said the changes will create a better legal framework for foreign NGOs to have a wider presence in China and provide a platform for better coordination with government agencies.

"The government is moving in the right direction," said Jia Xijin, an associate professor with the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University, who pointed out that regulations need to be revised to make it easier for NGOs to register.

She said the current Regulations on the Registration of Social Organizations, promulgated in 1998, have no provision covering foreign NGOs, leaving them in the limbo.

"Foreign NGOs operate in China but their presence has no legal basis, which makes it impossible for them to recruit members or raise funds," Jia said.

As a result, the China operations of some foreign NGOs, including the World Wild Fund for Nature, have been registered as commercial organizations and thus cannot raise funds or recruit volunteers. They also have to pay taxes.

Jia also told that the unfavorable policy environment has become a major bottleneck for the development of domestic NGOs.

They have to find a government-authorized institution as its "responsible professional institution" to secure registration - which is often cumbersome or sometimes impossible.

Jia urged the government to waive the registration procedures for grassroots NGOs without much funding. "Such NGOs are the foundation of social development and harmony," Jia said.

Liu Kaiming, dean of an institute focusing on training and helping migrant workers, said he was glad the government was taking concrete steps to create a favorable environment for NGOs.

According to figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the country had about 354,000 NGOs by the end of 2006 but Jia estimated the actual number at more than 1 million.

(China Daily May 25, 2007)

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