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Voluntary organisations

Professor Kenneth Wain, who was appointed Malta’s first-ever Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations (NGOs) in December 2007, has recently resigned from his post. When it was established 11 years ago under a Nationalist administration, it was greeted with considerable enthusiasm by the majority of NGOs, who until then had not only been unregulated, but also barely recognised by the government.

The mission of the Office of Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations was to strengthen the very important voluntary civil sector with the aim of promoting the work of NGOs, as well as encouraging them in their role as partners with the government. The ultimate objective was to give greater visibility to the voluntary sector, as well as to guarantee transparency and accountability by being the regulatory authority, monitoring these organisations and supporting them.                                                     

Professor Wain is believed to have become frustrated at the delays in passing legal amendments to the 2007 Voluntary Organisations Act to close loopholes which were leaving NGOs vulnerable to money-laundering and terrorist black money financing. This was a concern that Professor Wain had strongly highlighted in his most recent annual reports.

In a statement following the resignation, the Ministry of Education and Employment said it was committed to introducing the legislative changes Professor Wain had put forward as it shared his view that the Voluntary Organisations Act lacked several important elements to safeguard the public interest, specifically in the spheres of protection against money-laundering and the potential abuse of financing terrorism, as well as monitoring the appropriate use of funds in the voluntary sector and the requirements for mandatory enrolment.

In mitigation of the delays in introducing further amendments to the 2007 Act, the ministry pointed out that the proposed amendments had to undergo a rigorous process, which included inputs from the Attorney General’s Office, the FIAU and the Inland Revenue Department, among others. The Attorney General’s Office had only finalised changes on 16 April. 

However, the important issue of the delays in including money-laundering aspects of the legislative amendments required were not the only issues which had clearly rankled with Professor Wain.

While they appear to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, there were other issues which had come up consistently throughout his tenure as commissioner. For example, he has had cause over recent years to draw attention to the way the Ministry for Gozo had flouted the proper administration of the Gozo NGO Fund by not ensuring that organisations given such funds had been properly enrolled as NGOs and were compliant in publishing and submitting their annual returns and accounts as laid down in the law. He advocated the ministry should be under investigation for its “disregard of the law”.

Indeed, it is remarkable in hindsight that Professor Wain stayed at his post for so long given the difficulties he encountered. These included the chronic shortages in manpower support, which his last report referred to as “at crisis level”. Rather like the Superintendent for Cultural Heritage over the same period, he had been starved of the necessary administrative and manpower support to fulfil his role properly.

Professor Wain’s departure will be sorely missed.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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