The Malta Independent 15 May 2021, Saturday

Law on public collections and charity shops should be withdrawn – Volunteer Action Group

Thursday, 22 April 2021, 13:18 Last update: about 22 days ago

A group of NGOs have teamed up together to form Volunteer Action Group (VAG) to call for the withdrawal and rethinking of the legislation on public collections and charity shops.

This was announced in a press conference addressed by Stephania Dimech Sant from the Richmond Foundation, Alex Torpiano from Din l-Art Ħelwa and Robert Aquilina from Repubblika. The Volunteer Action Group also includes Kevin Bonello from the St Joseph's Musical Society AD 1889 and Mark Thorogood from SPCA Gozo.

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The three representatives voiced their concern over what this bill could entail for the voluntary sector, fearing that this would hamper them heavily.

The new laws seek to strengthen transparency and accountability when NGOs collect money to finance their activities. Passed last year, they are due to come into force in July, but various voluntary organisations are on edge about the new law.

This is as, they contended, the voluntary sector works with numerous volunteers who offer their spare time to give a helping hand, and introducing more bureaucracy and red tape would render it more difficult for these to offer such help.

The VAG questioned why such legislation was being introduced. It has issued a directive to voluntary organizations not to follow the restrictions imposed by legal notices.

If the authorities do not listen and revoke such a legal notice, they will inform the Council of Europe about the “threat” the NGOs and voluntary organisations are facing.

Dimech Sant explained how society needs the voluntary sector, as it performs various functions that neither the Government nor the private sector perform. She noted that, “few people have the courage to engage in such works which benefit society.”

Alex Torpiano said it seems that NGOs and voluntary groups were more trusted during past times. He mentioned the 1981 law on public collections and stated that it appears that at that time, NGOs were more trusted and respected, as although the legal notices refer to this law, they go against it.

He also questioned why people have to bring a police conduct certificate every few months, and why these groups have have to seek authorisation every six months. This will discourage people from forming or joining such groups which have philanthropic motivations, he said.

"Why are we becoming so authoritarian with small groups when there are big ones that may not act properly?" Professor Torpiano asked.

Repubblika’s Robert Aquilina said that this legal notice will make it much more difficult for voluntary groups to function. It is casting a bad shadow on volunteers, he said, and they are being treated as if they are criminals.

“We do not need any permission to make a collection from the public. It is shocking that the authorities have denied NGOs this right,” he said.

Aquilina remarked that they will be doing the best they can to fight this legislation.

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