SLOVAKIA: draft law on transparency for the third sector raises worries among some civil society

A law to enhance transparency of funding for civil society organisations is expected to be discussed in the parliament in September. Viera Zuborova from the Bratislava Policy Institute commented: <<In general, this draft law should not be so suspicions as it looks on the first view and in the context of the recent development. According to the draft law, the NGOs, and other organisations or foundations should be registered under one common list with all information about the structure of the organisation, their financial transaction, their members and founders.>>

All this information is already stated in the annual reports of organisations and often CSOs provide more detailed descriptions of their financing than political parties and other types of organisations. <<The bill raises concerns because legislation adopted in recent years and in particular the latest amendment in May 2018, the transparency of NGOs and especially foundations is already stricter than the transparency requested to budgetary organisations, contributory organisations and public institutions (compare the table NO 1)>> Viera added.

NO 1: Transparency and control system in the Slovak Republic

Legal form Publication of the Financial Statement Publication of Annual Report Approval of Financial Statement Audit of Financial Statement Audit of Annual report
Foundations yes yes yes yes yes
NGO yes yes yes yes no
Non-Investment fund yes yes according to legal form yes no
No-public providers of social services yes yes according to legal form yes no
recipients of the share of the tax paid yes yes according to the Charter yes no
Civic associations no no no no no
Budgetary organisation yes no no no no
Contributory organisation yes no no no no
Public institutions yes no no no no
Self-Governing regional institutions yes yes no yes no

Source: Government Council for Non-Governmental and Non-Profit Organizations, 2018

What concerns civil society above all is the political climate and narrative related to CSOs and foreign funding. Former Prime Minister Robert Fico made controversial statements on civil society receiving foreign funding. For example, after the April 29 summit in Brussels he stated: <<I even think that everywhere these NGOs are active, they will have to disclose information about the country they receive money from, who stands behind them in order for us to know who is who, because otherwise, we will find out that various street meetings are organised here and behind them are NGOs from abroad>>.

Viera Zuborova explained that <<Following the example of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who used the Hungarian philanthropist George Soros in his political campaign to publicly attack and discredit critical civil society organisations, Soros was also used as a scapegoat by former Prime Minister Robert Fico for remaining in the office after the murder of the journalist Jan Kuciak.>>

Following the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak who was investigating corruption and organised crime in the country, mass protests started in Slovakia and across the country to demand a change.

<<Robert Fico verbally attacked civil society organisations, foundations and leaders of the mass protests calling for his resignation. After this moment, the smear campaign against civil society organisations emerged across the political spectrum. The leaders of political party Smer-SD are using similar buzzwords of “foreign agents and funding” as Viktor Orbán. They are presenting the view that people from the third sector are supported by Soros who is aiming at destroying the Slovak national security and system. While this theory was only voiced by Robert Fico, it was fed by the rhetoric of other leaders of Smer-SD.>> Viera said.

The law could contribute to the stigmatization of civil society organisations in the eye of the public. Viera stresses that <<On one hand, the current draft law that should be adopted in September 2018 looks like general legislation that is needed to improve transparency in NGOs financing; on the other hand, a question should be raised: How far should the political authorities go with their perception towards the transparency and public control of the third sector in Slovakia?>>.

The bill is expected to be discussed in the parliament in September. Attention must be paid until the law will be passed in the parliament, as last-minute amendments could change the substance of the text.