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News • November 21 2004

Maltese NGOs one step behind European Union counterparts

Julian Manduca

Maltese NGOs continue to operate one step behind NGOs in most other EU countries. While all NGOs in the new member states have been trying to access EU funds and the EU has shown a willingness to provide much needed money, the Maltese are at a disadvantage because there is no legal framework for them and, barring a few, they cannot provide official evidence that they are legally registered.
In applications to the EU insistence is made that each applicant indicate its registration number and whether the organisation has a legal status. Some applications submitted to the EU for funding have been turned down because the organisations were not able to provide a registration number.
Among the environment related NGOs, the GAIA Foundation has set itself up as a foundation, but most other organisations have been waiting patiently for the passage of an NGO law that was first promised some five years ago.
But the law has been slow in coming. When MaltaToday contacted the Ministry for Family and Social Solidarity for an update, minister Dolores Christina said: “NGO legislation constitutes one of the Ministry’s priorities. Considerable work on the draft legislation regulating voluntary organisations has already been carried out. The legislation will be into two parts. One will be the NGOs Act and the other will consist of amendments to the Civil Code.
“Groups of NGOs sent in their proposals to the Ministry. These were used in the drafting stage of the legislation, so that the points raised are given due consideration.” However, no tentative date has been set for the presennting of the legislation to Parliament so it is anybody’s guess when the NGOs can finally be registered.
When MaltaToday asked whether the ministery was in a position to help NGOs finding difficulties to obtain funds because of the lack of a law, Christina replied: With the launch, of the European Social Fund’s EQUAL Community Initiative, on the 18 October, interested prospective Partnerships, including NGOs, are able to submit their application forms to the Ministry’s ESF Unit (prior to 18 November 2004) in order to qualify for the attractive level of ESF co-financing available for the selected project.
When MaltaToday contacted NGOs to ask if they aware that they ought to have submitted application forms to the ESF Unit, the reply was in the negative and the deadline has now passed.
Maltese NGOs that are registered for VAT are also finding themselves in difficulties because the VAT department is refusing to pay refunds when NGOs carry out campaigns with EU funds. All the major NGOs registered for VAT at its inception and paid and charged VAT as it fell due, but now they are being told they will not be able to claim VAT back if an EU campaign is not an economic activity. This means the NGO would have to pay VAT but not be able claim it back. While the VAT department has told the NGOs they cannot claim VAT back on activities that are not economic, NGOs have never been given a clear official ruling in relation to the EU funded campaigns they are conducting.




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