Civic Chamber considers special status for some SONGOs

The Civic Chamber is finalising proposals for the allocation of ‘increased benefit’ status to NGOs

Russia, 14.09.2015

At the plenary session of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, chamber members reported on the implementation of presidential instructions. This relates in particular to the allocation of a special category for ‘useful’ non-profit organisations and monitoring of the effectiveness of community councils.

President Vladimir Putin’s ‘universal and far-reaching’ instructions following the anniversary meeting of the Civic Chamber concern NGOs, said the Chair of the Civic Chamber’s Public Monitoring Commission Lydia Mikheeva. She stated that the Civic Chamber is currently finalising its proposals on the creation of a single national register of NGOs and the allocation among third sector organisations of a special category for those which bring ‘increased benefits’.

The anniversary meeting of the Civic Chamber, in which the head of state participated, took place in June 2015. Following the meeting the president particularly requested a review of the practical application of NGO legislation and the monitoring of the formation and effectiveness of community councils under the executive branch.

“Everyone who has come across it knows that the term ‘socially-orientated’ non-profit organisation is in fact a fuzzy concept. It has become uncertain. ‘Socially-orientated’ non-profit organisations include those which bring real benefits and assist the state and society in addressing pressing questions relating primarily to family and childhood, assistance for senior citizens, and art and culture. But the term may also apply to other organisations which have little relation to this”, said Mikheeva.

It is considered in the Civic Chamber that the NGO register currently maintained by the Ministry of Justice is out of date. It is not consistent with the register of the Federal Tax Service, does not reflect the real activity of NGOs and makes it difficult to identify those NGOs which ‘actually work, and don’t just create this impression on paper’. Mikheeva says that the allocation of ‘increased benefit’ status to socially-orientated NGOs is important for grantmakers and regional authorities, which could rely on data from the single register to select organisations worthy of support.

She stresses that socially-orientated NGOs bringing ‘increased benefits’ should be exempt from property, land and transport tax, provided that ‘they present evidence of their increased social benefits’ and proof that they are ‘spending funds for their intended purpose’.

In addition, the Civic Chamber suggests giving subjects of the Russian Federation the right to switch to a simplified tax system and set a tax rate of 0% for socially-orientated NGOs bringing ‘increased benefits’. “There is another proposal: the prospect of tax breaks for donors, philanthropists, and commercial entities providing assistance and support to this special category of socially-orientated NGOs”, said Mikheeva. The corresponding proposals of the Civic Chamber will soon be finalised and submitted to the presidential administration.

Discussing the new rules for the formation of community councils, Iosif Diskin, Chair of the Civic Chamber Commission for the Harmonisation of Interethnic and Interreligious Relations, emphasised that the executive branch would be precluded from their personal formation. According to Diskin, they will be involved in the development of regulations, but excluded from the selection process for council members. Representatives of regional civic chambers will be involved in the planned work on monitoring the formation and effectiveness of community councils under the executive branch, he stressed.

Applications will be accepted until September 29 for membership of community councils under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of Transport. The Civic Chamber will form 75% of members of the new councils, with the remaining 25% involving expert government advisors.

The Secretary of the Civic Chamber Aleksandr Brechalov said that in the near future community councils will be set up in 52 departments. In his words, the established system of council formation is being ‘broken down’. In particular, Brechalov emphasised that a single public figure will not be permitted to participate in more than one council at a time.

“We do not intend to create turbulence around the ministers. But all of our plenary sessions and our dialogue with the president on 23 June show that public scrutiny is now required. This includes community councils under the federal executive authorities”, he said.

Author: Georgii Ivanushkin

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