Reforms give NGOs a level playing field

Updated: 2014-03-31 08:35

By He Dan (China Daily)

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Reforms give NGOs a level playing field

Children of migrant workers, in this May 2011 file photo, dance outside containers used as classrooms during an after-school program initiated by NGO Compassion for Migrant Children (CMC) in Beijing. [Photo/Agencies]

In Beijing alone, 221 social organizations registered directly with civil affairs departments in 2013, accounting for about 34 percent of the social organizations that obtained legal identities last year.

Bei Xiaochao, head of micro blog charities for Sina Weibo, a leading Chinese social networking site, said 2013 saw an unprecedented mushrooming of charitable foundations as a result of the simplified registration procedure.

"So many people around me are considering establishing their own foundations. That's a good indicator of a vigorous civil society," he said.

Encouraging moves

Sun Chunlong, founding director of the Longyue Charity Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the welfare of Kuomintang veterans of World War II, said the government's efforts to cooperate with NGOs have been encouraging.

In February, the Ministry of Civil Affairs arranged for a team composed of officials from six provincial civil affairs departments to visit Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, to study one of Sun's project sites for helping former KMT soldiers.

"I did a presentation in front of the officials and they then asked a lot of questions about our work plan and the challenges we face," he said.

Most Kuomintang veterans live in remote rural areas, and many lack documentation to prove that they once fought for the country. That means it's impossible for the civil affairs authorities to send staff to find them, listen to their stories and check to see if they qualify for government subsidies, he added.

"The Ministry of Civil Affairs has realized that it can rely on our expertise and resources to identify former Kuomintang soldiers," Sun said. "We are working out the cooperation details right now."

Despite the positive changes, the existing laws related to social organizations have failed to adapt to the latest trends, and may even be hindering the development of this burgeoning sector, according to Wang Ming, director of the Nongovernmental Organization Center at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Although Li Liguo, the minister for civil affairs, told a meeting in July that the work to amend the regulations on social associations would be completed soon and a new law was expected by the end last year, the revised version has yet to be unveiled.

The regulations on three types of NGOs - foundations, noncommercial units and social associations - have been in existence for more than 10 years. The revised regulations are expected to improve the rules concerning registration, tax exemption, disclosure of information and fundraising.

Sun Chunlong, from the Longyue Charity Foundation, complained that the requirement that a foundation's administrative costs should not exceed 10 percent of its annual expenditure has forced his organization to keep employees' salaries low.

"According to the requirement, we could only afford to pay our 11 full-time employees around 2,000 yuan to 3,000 yuan a month last year. It's extremely difficult to survive in big cities such as Shenzhen on such a small income," he said.

This dilemma is not unique to Sun's organization, though. Wang Yi'ou, founder and director of China Dolls, a Beijing NGO that provides help for people with rare ailments such as brittle bone disease, said the restrictions on executive expenses have resulted in understaffing, which means her current employees are required to work long hours to cope with the enormous workload.

"Our 10 employees have to keep track of more than 2,000 patients who have applied for our medical aid programs. Some work until 4 or 5 am. It's exhausting," she said.

Wang was hopeful that the government will improve the policies related to tax-deductible donations, which would encourage more support from the business sector.

"At present, only donors to about 100 charities enjoy tax benefits. Those incentives disappear if the companies decide to donate to grassroots nonprofit organizations like ours," she said. "The existing rule dissuades a lot of potential donors."

Yu Fangqiang, director of an anti-discrimination NGO called Tianxiagong, or "Justice for All", based in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, believes the reform of social organization management has fallen behind economic reform.

"Last year, startup capital for people looking to establish an organization was abolished, so while you can literally register a company with 1 yuan, it's not possible to do the same if you plan to found an NGO," he said.

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