Monday, July 4, 2022

RoS has enough teeth to regulate NGOs, says lawyer

Haniff Khatri Abdulla says some NGOs stray from their objectives because of political leaders who look for ways to exploit such groups.

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A lawyer has played down any need to create new laws in order to regulate the activities of NGOs or other organisations, saying the enactments of new legislation and rules is not the solution to existing problems such as abuse and exploitation.

Responding to calls for a specific law to prevent bodies registered with the Registrar of Societies (RoS) from involvement in such activities, Haniff Khatri Abdulla said there would always be a handful of people who attempt to circumvent the system.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said people might choose to register as NGOs to develop their ideas and philosophies as they believed the government would not help them achieve their goals.

In the meantime, he said, others might decide to do the same in order to carry out illegal programmes such as the embezzlement of funds.

“Does it mean that because of them, we have to come up with a law to regulate all NGOs? No.

“We have to regulate bad people,” he said, adding that Malaysia already has enough criminal laws to deal with cases of fraud, money laundering and the like.

Throughout the past year, various activities of NGOs have come to light including allegations of abuse and neglect concerning Bella, a teenager with Down syndrome at the centre of an ongoing court case that has grabbed national attention.

It was discovered that the welfare home at which Bella was placed under the care of Siti Bainun Ahd Razali, who is accused of abusing her, was unlicensed.

The centre, called Rumah Bonda, was co-founded by prominent child rights activist Syed Azmi Alhabshee.

NGOs have also been known to be used as cash cows by parties looking to skim a profit in the name of charity and humanitarian efforts, as RoS policy allows any fundraising organisation to pocket up to 30% of the total collection for administrative costs.

But Haniff said the RoS, as a body established to oversee the registration of such organisations, is equipped to act against any party found to have committed a crime.

The problem is when the RoS comes under public scrutiny for its apparent failure to intervene.

“If a certain NGO is found to be cheating people, it should be reported to the RoS.

“The RoS has authority over all registered bodies, to regulate and, when necessary, to take action,” he said, adding that it would be inaccurate to say that NGOs are unregulated.

For Haniff, the majority of NGOs and organisations who stray from their original objectives do so because of a handful of political leaders who are on the lookout for ways to exploit these groups.

“Let us not forget the many cases involving charity foundations established by these leaders,” he said.

“What is the purpose of all of these foundations? Is it to make money illegally, or to receive bribes, or launder money?

“It is not that we wish to accuse,” he added. “But if the foundations were formed for personal rather than public interests, is that not abuse by the leaders themselves?”

Arguably the most prominent example of a foundation embroiled in controversy is that of Yayasan Akalbudi.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is currently facing 47 charges of criminal breach of trust, corruption and money laundering related to funds from the charity outfit.

He was told to enter his defence for all 47 charges at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month.

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