Members of the Senate called for greater oversight of NGOs which obtain foreign funding and stricter controls on NGOs and civil society organisations which receive in-kind and cash donations.
Speaker of the Senate Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek said in a plenary session on 23 April that the Senate’s debate on NGOs — including a statement delivered by Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine Al-Qabbaj and comments made by senators — will be used by the chamber’s Human Rights and Social Solidarity Committee to prepare a report to be discussed in another plenary session.
Al-Qabbaj said the ministry’s supervision of the performance of all NGOs operating in Egypt “includes strict oversight of all foreign funds granted to NGOs and that licensed NGOs can obtain foreign financing only after it is approved by the auditing unit affiliated with the Ministry of Social Solidarity, the Central Auditing Agency, and the Administrative Control Authority.
Media outlets are free to publish how much funding NGOs receive from foreign sources, and a digital registry tracks how such allocations are disbursed, she added.
Al-Qabbaj stressed that the concerned auditing agencies are mandated to ensure funding is directed solely to development activities.
In 2021, according to Al-Qabbaj, LE2 billion was received in foreign funding, the majority of which was spent on health services.
She underlined that NGO Law 149/2019 does not include provisions for custodial sentences, though it allows for the imposition of fines, the freezing of bank accounts, suspension of directors and, in some cases, the disbanding of NGOs.
Senate Deputy Speaker Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka expressed concern over the absence of prison sentences in favour of what he termed “modest financial fines that mean nothing to NGOs with political agendas”, appearing unmoved by Al-Qabbaj’s argument that Senators adopt “a more positive view of NGOs which aid the state, particularly during times of crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, and contribute generously to education and social protection programmes.”
Senator Abdou Abu Aysha said he was not in favour of demonising but that stricter controls over local NGOs which obtain foreign funding was needed to ensure such funds were not used to finance political activity.
The 23 April debate on government supervision of NGO sources of funding had been requested by Senator Soha Said Abdel-Moneim who said NGO Law 149/2019 afforded many privileges to civil society organisations operating in Egypt which had raised LE 2.2 billion from international donors between January and October 2021, and LE 4.9 billion in contributions from individual citizens. “Stricter controls are needed,” she argued, “to guarantee these enormous sums are used for development and charitable activities in a transparent way.”
“We need to know how much is spent on salaries, administrative services, TV ads, and is actually spent on development activities. Donations should not go to line the pockets of individuals at the expense of development.”
She urged greater coordination between the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s regional offices and NGOs to ensure funds are used to optimise development.
In response, Al-Qabbaj said the ministry keeps a close eye on advertising that urges people to donate money to NGOs, hospitals, and charitable organisations, and that a ceiling of 20 per cent of donations had been set on advertising expenditure.
Nabil Dibis, chair of the Senate’s Education Committee, said the status of NGOs in Egypt is a national security issue given that some funding is spent on promoting foreign agendas, and that between the 25 January 2011 uprising and President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s coming to office in June 2014, the majority of foreign funds to local NGOs was spent on political agitation.
Dibis demanded that a member of the security forces or the Administrative Control Authority be represented on the board of any NGO that obtains foreign funding, and that 70 per cent of all foreign funds should be earmarked for development projects such as the building of electricity stations and potable water facilities.
Senator Mohamed Emara argued that a ceiling of six per cent donations should be set for spending on salaries and administrative costs.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.