Discussion of draft legislation on a single register for non-profit organisations in Russia
What NGOs propose to change in the resolution on the unified register
Draft legislation on a “register of non-profit organisations” has been debated in the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.
On 11 August, the Civic Chamber discussed the draft as well as the long-term purpose of the NGO register.
The Russian government’s proposal to create a single register listing non-profit organisations was published on a government website for draft legislation on 31 July. Discussion will continue until 14 August.
The Russian Ministry for Economic Development had previously published two registers of NGOs who had therefore been granted eligibility for state support. The non-profit organisations listed were given the opportunity to be exempt from taxation, from advance payments excluding VAT, insurance premiums for the second quarter of 2020 and rent payments. On 25 June, a meeting was held between Vladimir Putin and new members of the Civic Chamber during which Natalia Kirykhina, a Civic Chamber member for Sevastopol and Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Sevastopol-based organisation “Special Children”, suggested that the President should aim to create a “single register”, that would synthesise both of the Ministry of Economic Development’s registers.
“The list must be simplified so that people can gain an understanding of the impact public organisations have on the real economy”, said Kirykhina.
What will happen to the previous two registers?
According to Elena Topoleva, Chairman of the Civic Chamber’s Commission for the Development of the non-profit sector, and Director of the Agency for Social Information, the vast majority of the measures introduced by the Ministry of Economic Development to support NGOs listed on the two registers were short term and designed to last for just the duration of the pandemic.
“There is one support measure, however, that is not currently limited by a rigid timeframe but has a long-term perspective, this is the current tax rebate for businesses that make donations to NGOs listed on either register”, Topoleva pointed out. She stated that it is essential to clarify firstly how all NGOs can indirectly benefit from this and secondly, how to ensure that the policy is not compromised by future changes.
Elena Ivanitskaya, Deputy Director of the Department for Strategic Development and Innovation at the Ministry of Economic Development announced that the previous two registers will cease to operate: further information relating to this change will be included either as part of the unified register or in a separate document.
Why is a single register needed?
“A single register is a major step forward and not just because it allows government support to be implemented (…) This is a wide-reaching opportunity to analyse the size and performance of the non-profit sector (…) It will enable us to identify areas of growth, and similarly areas where our organisations are less developed, and it will provide the opportunity to study this data at a regional level,” said Elizaveta Oleskina, member of the Civic Chamber and Director of the charity “Joy in Old Age”. According to Oleksina, this register is a “meaningful attempt to act for the sector as a whole”.
Aleksandr Tkachenko, Chairman of the Civic Chamber’s Commission for Charity and Social Work, and General Director of the independent non-profit organisation “Children’s Hospice” also spoke in favour of creating a single register.
“I believe that the decision to create a single register is one that will change the entire NGO sector for the better, both making it more transparent and accelerating development. There is also no question that the practical, fiscal benefits will be well received by philanthropists. This is a crucial step towards strengthening cooperation between NGOs, the state and philanthropists,” said Tkachenko.
However, there is no mention in the draft resolution about how the register will be publicised. Tkachenko suggests that for the initiative to be of value, government must consider how information about the register will reach NGOs. He noted that regional Civic Chambers and the Presidential Grants Fund could be instrumental in doing so.
Anna Bitova, Director of Special Childhood, a centre for medical pedagogy, suggested creating a hotline for the new register, where non-profit organisations could direct any queries they have, especially in relation to being included on the list.
What is not understood
Questions were raised during the session about the register’s name (as listed in the document’s introduction) as well as the concept of a “register operator”. There is still some confusion as to how this register will differ from others and who will be responsible for its organisation and supervision.
“Its title is not effective. This type of document is indistinguishable from registers at the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Justice and even in part the Federal Tax Service, and so this register needs a clearly identifiable title, such as “Register for NGOs receiving fiscal support”, said Svetlana Makovetskaya, Director of the Centre for Civil Analysis and Independent Research (GRANI).
It is also not clear how NGOs are included or excluded from the register.
“Any violation of the law by an NGO should not be grounds for exclusion. The wording is vulnerable to too broad an interpretation by law enforcement and grants them excessive powers,” said Georgy Sitnikov, Deputy Chairman of the Commission for the Development of Civil Society institutions in the Perm Civic Chamber.
In his opinion, the same criteria should be grounds for both inclusion and exclusion from the register.
Elena Topoleva noted that the discussion revolved around two main subject areas: the resolution itself, which led to a series of “proposals and comments”, and the future purpose of the unified register.
Topoleva suggests submitting proposals after the Civic Chamber has made its recommendations following this discussion. You can view the full record of the public hearing of the draft resolution “on the register for non-profit organisations” here.