Detailed report on the National Campaign to amend the NGO Law in Jordan entitled Towards Effective and Influential Associations

Detailed report on the National Campaign to amend the NGO Law in Jordan
entitled
Towards Effective and Influential Associations

March – June 2009

Index

  1. Background information 3
  2. The aim of the campaign 3
  3. The campaign activities 4
  4. Methodology 4
  5. Associations participating the Campaign 5
  6. National Conference to present the results of the campaign 6
  7. Conference goals 6
  8. The participants in the Conference 6
  9. The Campaign Recommendations 7
  10. Controversial issues 9

 

Annexes

Annex I:
Campaign table of activities 11

Annex II:
A brief description of the Campaign activities 12

Annex III:
The team implementing the activities of the campaign 14

Annex IV:
Pictures of the Campaign Activities 15

Background information:

In March 2008, the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development approached the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty with a proposal to partner on a consultation process with NGOs from all over Jordan to discuss the Kingdom’s NGO law. The NGO law had been withdrawn earlier that year, in January 2008, from the parliament due to pressures exerted by national and regional human rights organizations and due to the Jordanian government’s openness to review the law.

In June of 2008 the Jordanian parliament passed a new NGO law, which was received by a lot of criticism from associations working in the field of human rights in Jordan and other international human rights organizations.

The National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) presented a number of recommendations and observations on the law and its proposed amendments to the Government. These proceed from the conviction of the NCHR that the right to form association and join them is a fundamental right guaranteed by article (16) of the Jordanian Constitution, and that the role of legislation is limited to regulating associations and supervising their spending. Furthermore, the recommendations of NCHR are based on the principles stated in the International Declaration of Human Rights, which stresses that no restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of association should be imposed other than those necessary in a democratic society.

It is as a result of this eye-opening experience that the NCHR proposed to the Friedrich Naumann Foundation to jointly design and implement a far reaching campaign aimed at mobilizing grass-root organizations for a more liberal law – a proposition that the FNF gladly accepted.

The National Campaign entitled "Towards effective and influential associations" has been conducted successfully. The campaign targeted all associations active in the provinces across the Kingdom, aiming at raising awareness regarding international standards of the right to associate, discussing the NGO law no. 51 of 2008 as amended, as well as the impact of the law on the NGO work. The campaign was carried out from March 2009 until June 2009, concluding each session with the formation of a local committee in each province to meet freely and formulate its own recommendations based on their own experience with the new law and the difficulties encountered in its implementation.

The two partners cooperated in the design and implemention of the campaign activities concluded before the convening of the extraordinary parliament session in June 2009.

The aim of the campaign:

The ultimate aim of the campaign was to reach a modern law that would boost the role of NGOs in all fields of development.

Goals of the campaign:

  • To listen to the views of associations on the NGO law no. 51 of 2008;
  • To examine the international standards for freedom of association as stipulated in international human rights conventions;
  • To reach out to the largest possible number of associations in the various provinces and discuss the most important problems they face in their work;
  • To open channels of dialogue and communication between associations and the decision makers.

The campaign activities:

The campaign was launched under the title "Towards effective and influential associations". The title was chosen carefully to serve the objectives of the campaign and to emphasize its nature, which aims at reaching out to groups in remote areas, to listen to the difficulties they experience and to deliver their message to decision makers.

The workshops were held in accordance with the attached program, gathering around 518 participants from 11 Jordanian provinces. The workshops witnessed a relatively good female participation, where the total number reached 155 participants.

Methodology:

The campaign activities were designed to promote awareness on the international standards for freedom of association and to discuss law no. 51 of 2008, as amended. An extensive participatory discussion within the workshop provided a platform for the associations to present the impact of law on their work and on the services they provide to poor and marginalized groups. The campaign also emphasized the importance of freedom of association as well as the need to ease restrictions on associations. In addition, the discussions aimed at accentuating the importance of the principles of accountability and responsibility within associations and their internal control procedures. In this regard, a session was devoted in each workshop to introduce the Code of Conduct for NGOs, which was produced throughout the implementation period of the project by a number of Arab experts and partners, NCHR among them. The code was adopted at an international conference held at the headquarters of the League of Arab States in Cairo in late 2008.

In affirmation of the continuity of dialogue between the government and civil society; some workshops witnessed the active participation of representatives of the Ministry of Social Development in the provinces. They intently participated in the discussions and listened to the difficulties and obstacles facing associations working under the new NGO law no. 51 of 2008.

Associations participating the Campaign:

According to official statistics of the Ministry of Social Development in 2008, there are 1150 associations registered in Jordan gathering an estimate of 100 thousand workers and volunteers. Another 77 associations were registered during the year 2008, and a further 49 foreign associations are active in Jordan. The campaign targeted associations in the Jordanian provinces in particular due to their distance and the centralized nature in which associations are governed.

A large number of participants in the workshops indicated that the majority of associations working in the provinces are family or tribal based associations with limited budgets not exceeding 200 JDs per year. Most societies anticipate special seasons to collect donations from large associations in Amman in order to distribute them to the poor, such as the holy month of Ramadan and Eid Al-Adha celebrations and other religious and national occasions.

Others also pointed out that some associations are limited to donating some food, medicine and aid to a small number of students in schools and universities to cover the education expenses, which amounts from 5 to 10 JDs per year to ease the difficult economic situation of families in these provinces.

Basically, associations in the provinces have difficulty getting funding because of their distance from the capital and the lack of infrastructure (staff, and liaison offices), appropriate means of communication and knowledge of any foreign languages. Given the small budgets of these associations and the other impediments, some donor institutions are reluctant to provide funding as they fear that these associations are unable to manage large projects.

One of the most important problems raised by the representatives of associations is that there are a limited number who receive support from the Ministry of Planning. The support is in form of a building or a piece of land. Yet this support is conditioned to having 2-year seniority in terms of registration, which is a hindrance for newly formed associations who are in dire need of such support.

The associations who received a piece of land donated by the government faced a major challenge when an official letter was circulated calling associations to start building on the donated land or else the ministry will reserve its right to reclaim the land.

Some representatives criticized the centralized method of distributing donations and the lack of real monitoring. Associations in remote areas suffer most and complained that the unjust distribution of aid and support leads to an imbalance in development.

A very small number of associations, whose annual budgets ranging between JD 1000 to 10,000, said they mostly implement small income generating projects to provide income for poor families.

In addition to the limited financial resources, some representatives complained of the restrictions imposed on them, which make many of those who wish to join volunteer work reluctant for fear of the possible penalties stated in the law.

National Conference to present the results of the campaign:

Building on the positive results achieved by the campaign and to promote its recommendations, the NCHR in cooperation with the FNF organized a National Conference in Amman in June 2009, during the extraordinary session of parliament.

The two partners approached Prime Minister Nader Al-Dahabi for patronage and sought the participation of the ministry of social development and parliament members. However, all three declined.

The conference was held on 16/6/2009 under the title: "Towards effective and influential associations."
Conference goals:

  • To open channels of dialogue and constructive discussion between CSOs and the government;
  • To present the recommendations of the associations in the various provinces of Jordan on the NGO law no. 51 of 2008;
  • To allow lobbying and advocacy groups to present their views on the law;
  • To open channels of communications among CSOs to build coalitions between them in order to promote the principles of freedom of association in Jordan;
  • To present NCHR’s comments on the new law and its compatibility with international standards;
  • To mobilize the media to advocate a new law in harmony with the principles contained in the Jordanian constitution and the international human rights standards.

The participants in the Conference:

  • The Committee on Labor and Development in the parliament
  • Representatives of the various provinces of Jordan (4 from each province)
  • Representatives of political parties,
  • Representatives of trade unions
  • Representatives of local newspapers and news agencies
  • Representatives of the coalition of civil society institutions
  • Representatives of the Ministry of Social Development
  • Representatives of the Ministry of Political Development
  • Representatives of the Ministry of the Interior
  • Representatives of the General Intelligence Department
  • Representatives of local, regional and international human rights bodies

The campaign recommendations:

Participants in the different campaign activities and the committees that have emerged from each event, submitted their written recommendations summarized as follows:

  1. An independent authority for associations
  2. Participants in the various campaign activities recommended that registration of associations should be the responsibility of a mixed independent commission (51% NGO representatives + 49% government representatives), composed of representatives of charitable organizations and government. Each province gave a different percentage of representation.

    The supervisor of the registrar, wherever mentioned in the existing law, should be replaced by the independent authority.

  3. Membership of associations
  4. Minister, or prime ministry, should not have the right to name a member legal personality to be among the founders of associations.

  5. Registration of associations
  6. Government should ease registration procedures. The directorate of social development in the provinces should be the only party responsible for the registration of NGOs in the provinces and registration should not take more than 30 days.

  7. The decisions of the general assembly
  8. The minister shall not have the right to accept the decisions taken by the general assembly of an association. The minister shall only be notified of these decisions.

    Decisions taken by the General assembly enter into force as of the date of taking these decisions. A copy of the minutes of meeting to be submitted to the directorate.

  9. Funding of associations
  10. The government should not impose restrictions on associations with regard to funding. The independent commission should only be notified of any funding; all donations should be recorded and declared.

  11. Confidentiality of associations’ accounts
  12. The accounts of associations should enjoy confidentiality. This confidentiality should only be restricted upon a court verdict.

  13. Removing the board of directors
  14. The Minister should not enjoy the power of appointing a new board of directors. The minister should call the general assembly to convene. In case this option was not possible, the minister should appoint ½ of the members of the temporary board from among the associations’ general assemblies members.

  15. Dissolving associations
  16. The minister should not dissolve any association upon his discretion. Dissolution can only take place upon a verdict issued by a regular court.

    When a society is dissolved upon a judicial verdict; all its financial assets should go either to the Union of Voluntary Societies in the same province or to a society with similar objectives in the same area.

  17. Government funding of associations
  18. The government should allocate a budget from its own revenues to support charitable organizations.

    Associations should be granted the right to collect donations without any prior permission, on the condition that these donations are registered in their records.

  19. Penalties
  20. The law should not stipulate any imprisonment penalties and the amounts of financial penalties should be reduced. A penalty should be equal to the amounts misused.

  21. Tax exemptions
  22. Associations should be given tax exemptions on water, electricity and telephones. One vehicle for every society or union should be tax free.

  23. Unions
  24. The formation of a general union on the Kingdom level and unions in each province. Presidents of these unions should be directly elected without any interference.

  25. The national lottery
  26. Should remain the sole property of the general union of voluntary societies.

  27. Fund for the Support of Associations
  28. The support of the fund should be distributed among societies fairly and justly.

  29. Participation of Associations
  30. Associations should be consulted and should participate in the drafting of any law that would impact their work.

  31. Exemptions
  32. Donations made by the private sector to the NGOs should be tax exempted to encourage the private sector to support NGOs.

  33. The ministry of Planning
  34. The support of the ministry should not be based on previously set conditions.

  35. Representation
  36. NGOs should be represented in the consultative councils of districts and provinces.

  37. Recommendations to the parliament
  38. The parliament should positively respond to the demands of provinces and take them into consideration when it disuses the law.

  39. The Code of Conduct for NGOs

In all the provinces the code was well received and all participating NGOs said that it is a very valuable tool for internal monitoring.

They agreed that abiding by the principles set by the code will empower societies, gain them more credibility and thus, there is no need for a prior scrutiny from authorities.

Controversial issues

  1. The number of founders
  2. In most of the provinces, participants recommended raising the number of founders. The number suggested differed from one province to the other and ranged between 20 – 50 founding members.

    This demand has only been limited to charitable societies and reasons given are those related to the funding. The higher the number of funders, the more is the membership fees collected.

    Another reason, is competition between the different groups with similar aims in the provinces, which was perceived as having negative impact on the charitable work.

  3. The aims of associations
  4. In Aqaba, some of the participants recommended adding a provision which states that the aims of associations should be compliant with Islamic Sharia provisions.

    In many provinces, participants stressed that societies should be allowed to have political aims, if these aims are declared and do not violate the existing laws. Some participants expressed some reservations in this regard.

  5. Penalties
  6. Almost all associations rejected the imprisonment penalty and the high fees of penalties.

    In two provinces there were some very few voices calling for maintaining penalties as they are.

  7. The Code of Conduct
  8. In some of the provinces, (especially in associations working in small villages) associations debated one of the principles stated in the Code of Conduct related to conflict of interests, specially those related to:

    • The board shall not have members who have kinship relations of the first and second degree.
    • Any person who has a first and second level of kinship ties or relationship by marriage with the general manager shall not become a member of the board.
    • Any person who has first and second levels of kinship ties or relationship by marriage shall not hold any supervising or monitoring position.

Annex I

Campaign table of activities

Province Venue Date No. of participants No. of male participants No. of female participants Number of registered associations

  1. Jarash Union of Voluntary Societies 31 March 2009 52 20 32 25
  2. Aqaba Union of Voluntary Societies 9 April 2009 37 25 12 24
  3. Salt Musa Al-Saket Cultural Center 20 April 2009 60 38 22 57
  4. Karak Union of Voluntary Societies 17 May 2009 49 43 6 63
  5. Madaba Union of Voluntary Societies 21 May 2009 36 29 7 49
  6. Mafraq Princess Basma Center for Development 26 May 2009 60 46 14 90
  7. Irbid Chamber of Trade - Irbid 30 May 2009 56 44 12 154
  8. Ajloun Union of Voluntary Societies 1 June 2009 40 12 28 31
  9. Zarqa Union of Voluntary Societies 4 June 2009 64 51 13 99
  10. Al-Tafileh Union of Voluntary Societies 6 June 2009 46 42 4 48
  11. Maan Union of Voluntary Societies 7 June 2009 18 13 5 22
  12. Amman No meeting was held due to time limitation and to the existence of an NGO coalition in Amman
  13. 518 363 155 662

Annex II

A brief description of the Campaign activities

Jarash, 31 March 2009

The workshop took place at the headquarters the Union of Voluntary Societies with the presence of representatives of more than 50 associations (20 males and 32 females). The associations that attended the meeting came from Jarash city as well as towns and villages surrounding it. The number of associations registered in Jarash is 25.

Aqaba, April 9, 2009

The Aqaba workshop was held at the headquarters of the Union of Voluntary Societies with the participation of 37 representatives from local associations (25 males and 12 females). The recommendations of the province are similar in comparison with the recommendations of other provinces. The number of associations registered in Aqaba is 24.

Salt, April 20, 2009

The workshop was held at the Musa Saket Cultural Center with the participation of 60 representatives (38 males and 22 females). This meeting witnessed an intensive participation by government representatives. Number of associations in the province is 57.

Karak, 17 May 2009

The meeting was held at the headquarters of the Union of Voluntary Societies with representatives of 49 associations (43 males and 6 females). At this gathering a distinct quality of participation and discussions crystallized. The number of associations in the province is 63.

Madaba, 21 May 2009

The meeting was held at the headquarters of the Union of Voluntary Societies with representatives of 36 associations (29 males and 7 females). The recommendations were similar to those of Karak and there were a number of specific recommendations as well. Number of associations in the province is 49.

Mafraq, 26 May 2009

The workshop took place at the Princess Basma Center for Development. 60 representatives of a total of 90 registered associations attended (46 males and 14 females).

Irbid, 30 May 2009

The Irbid Chamber of Commerce hosted the workshop, which was attended by 56 representatives (44 males and 12 women). The workshop was another success added to a series of successes achieved by the campaign in terms of quality discussions and recommendations. The number of associations registered in Irbid is 154.

Ajloun, June 1, 2009

The workshop took place at the headquarters of the General Union of Voluntary Associations and was attended by 40 representatives of associations. The workshop witnessed an overwhelming female participation a total of 28 participants out of 40. The recommendations were progressive by all standards and Ajloun was the only province which has demanded that the number of founders to be 11, unlike other provinces which demanded that the number of founders be 20 - 50 (for reasons which will appear later). Ajloun is also the only province which demanded removing the good conduct certificate as a registration requirement. Furthermore, participants voted in favour of granting NGOs the freedom of having political aims; as the work of NGOs is not limited to charity but also concerned with issues of public concerns.

The number of associations in the province is 31 Associations.

Zarqa, June 4, 2009

The workshop was held at the Union of Voluntary Societies’ premises with the participation of 64 representatives (51 males and 13 females). The number of associations in the province is 99 associations.

Maan, June 6, 2009

The meeting was held at the premises of the Union of Voluntary Societies and was attended by representatives from 46 associations in the province (out of 48 registered). A limited participation of women was noticed as no more than 4 female participants attended. The number of associations in the province is 48.

Tafileh, June 7, 2009

Tafileh meeting was attended by 18 representatives, 13 males and 5 females. The recommendations were excellent. On the code of conduct for NGOs, Tafileh was the only province that did not have any reservations on the principles related to "conflict of interest", which place restrictions on the appointment or election of first and second degree relatives in the administrative board of the association.

The number of associations in the province is 22.

 
Annex III

The team implementing the activities of the campaign:

Dr. Ali Dabbas, Assistant to the Commissioner, consultant for the campaign and trainer, NCHR

Mr. Saddam Abu Azzam, legal adviser in the Complaints and Legal Services Department, coordinator and trainer, NCHR

Mr. Hussein Al-Otaibi, lawyer, researcher and activist in human rights issues, volunteer with the National Center for Human Rights in the implementation of campaign activities.

Mrs. Ubab Murad, Director of the Arab-European project for the Freedom of Association, FNF.

Mr. Nabil Barham, Assistant to the regional project for the Freedom of Association, coordinator and logistical support for the campaign, FNF.

Mr. Mahmoud Abu Jaber, the logistical support of the campaign, NCHR.

Ms. Wafaa Alziod, Secretariat, NCHR

The Campaign was implemented under the guidance of Dr. Muhiddin TOUQ, NCHR Commissioner.

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation supporting role was represented by Mr. Ralf Erbel, Resident Representative of the Foundation.

Campaign was co-funded by the European Union.