NGOs protest at new Bill on Volunteering

NGO representatives have their say on a Bill on volunteering now with the State Duma

 

Moscow, 18.04.2016

 

The text of this draft legislation largely duplicates an old Bill on volunteering that has been deposited with the relevant specialist State Duma committee. NGO experts believe that the new Bill is dangerous and have accused its author, the Liberal Democratic Party MP Maxim Shingarkin, of incompetence. The MP’s Bill is now with the Duma Committee on the Activities of Public Associations and Religious Organisations.

 

The Bill’s Explanatory Note states that its purpose is to “provide legal protection to Russian citizens engaged in voluntary work, whether they be helping victims affected by man-made or natural disasters, or civilians caught up in war zones, including outside Russia’s borders, supporting international peace and security, taking effective collective measures to prevent and resolve threats to peace, and suppressing acts of aggression and other breaches of the peace”.

 

The law on volunteering has been the subject of much discussion over the years. The notion of legal regulation for this type of activity has long been anathema to those NGOs that work with volunteers. Indeed, the NGO community has been successful on several occasions in defying attempts by legislators to bring in such a law. It should also be borne in mind that the possibility of introducing a federal law on volunteering was discussed in the Public Chamber only last December.

 

Much of Shingarkin’s text is a rehash of an old Bill on volunteering which currently sits with the Duma Committee on the Activities of Public Associations and Religious Organisations and which has also attracted sharp criticism from the NGO community, said Vladimir Khromov, Director of the Union of Volunteer Organisations and Movements and member of Moscow’s Public Chamber. He says there is a particularly odious clause that states that a volunteer must respect the confidentiality of information that he or she has access to in carrying out their work. “Such a clause is a clear breach of criminal law. If an individual is a witness to a crime or an offence, they are obliged to inform the appropriate law enforcement agencies”, says Khromov.

 

Khromov explained that the Bill was now with the State Duma, having already successfully negotiated the public discussion stage. However, the text totally ignores the terms “volunteer”, “volunteering” and “voluntary activity” which is a huge mistake from a legal point of view, says the expert. “In this respect, this Bill would be a major blow to the whole sector. Its adoption would result in the introduction of completely incomprehensible rules, cause confusion in various areas of legal regulation, and create a complete shambles in the process”, he explained.

 

The text is “extremely crude and questionable”, which has come as a rather unpleasant shock, said Khromov. He drew attention to the fact that the Bill cuts across a number of existing sectoral laws, while the Explanatory Note states that its adoption would not invalidate, suspend or amend existing federal legislation or other legal and regulatory Acts. Furthermore, according to expert estimates, the costs of setting up the information system referred to in the Bill could be anywhere between 200,000,000 and 1.5 billion roubles, says Khromov, although in the Explanatory Note Shingarkin insists that its adoption would not entail any additional expenditure.

 

Khromov hopes that the submission of Shingarkin’s Bill to the State Duma is simply an MP’s attempt to earn pre-electoral brownie points. “His objective was to submit any old Bill to the State Duma. He copied (plagiarised) the text hurriedly from somewhere, adding a bit declaring himself to be in favour of volunteering in conflict zones and civil wars in neighbouring States, then somehow submits it to the appropriate Duma committee. How can you possibly compare the social sector with people wanting to work as volunteers in a civil war?”

 

The Lawyers for Civil Society Association feels that the Bill chiefly applies to volunteers wishing to work in war zones, but argues that it could have a serious impact on the free expression of public goodwill. “Our Association remains of the view that volunteering should be subject to minimal State regulation and that existing charity legislation is sufficient to enable volunteers in the social sector to work for the good of society”, said Vasily Romanetz, a lawyer with the Association.

 

Romanetz remarked that the MP’s Bill includes many of the provisions of the old Bill, particularly in relation to Government regulation. “Indeed, according to the Bill, regional, federal or municipal authorities could all organise volunteering and only ultimately be regarded as “other organisations”. The word “charity” is nowhere to be seen in the Bill, that is to say attempts have been made to create a huge chasm between volunteering and charity. There are many issues related to volunteering outside Russia that still require careful consideration, he added.

 

The absence of the “volunteer” concept in the Bill says much about the incompetence of its author, said Yuri Belanovsky, Head of the Danilovtzi voluntary movement, in an article on the Arguments and Facts newspaper website. He went on to add “I’m convinced that this new Bill will be detrimental to volunteering in the social and charity sector. At the very least, the effect will be to slow down its development in Russia and, at worst, kill it off completely. In my view, the Bill should not be approved. In fact, it would be better if we had no law on social volunteering at all. If regulation of volunteering in war zones is deemed necessary, then it can be done through separate Acts of Parliament”.

Author: Georgy Ivanushkin            http://www.asi.org.ru/news/124264/